As usual Mr Barnes took his place by the front entrance to the school. To make his life easier he leant back on his shooting stick cum umbrella, clad in his thick outdoor coat, stylish with its fur collar. He teased the younger boys that the coat's collar had been made from the pelt of a bear he once shot on a hunting expedition. This story was one of many told by Mr Barnes that Pip, as he grew older, was beginning to have his doubts about.
The old master sat, clipboard in hand, a never ending procession of Player's Navy Cut cigarettes making their way into his elegant holder as he waited for the hundred and fifty or so boys to return to The Rocks for the beginning of the new term. It was two o'clock in early January, brightly lit by the cold Cornish sun, frost still on the playing fields and in the trees bent out of shape by the persistent Cornish westerlies. Wrapped up, Mr Barnes studied the two lists of names on his clipboard: the main list, all returners and a shorter list of new First Year boys who would also be arriving today. In the absence of early arrivals he studied the lists. He prided himself that he knew all the boys, could picture each one in his mind, some sharp, some blurred.
Some boys, fewer than five on the list, brought a particular sense of interest to the nearly seventy-year-old teacher. They were the boys who shone brightest and, he was sure, would go on to greater things. Mr Barnes prided himself on being able to spot these few ascendant stars early on and concentrate his attentions on them. Not always the brightest, but the ones who shone out to him because of their curiosity, responsiveness and yes, interest to him. The latter was something he only dared admit fully to himself in the privacy of his bachelor lodgings in the farmhouse, accompanied by a large glass of malt whisky.
This was going to be a painful year for Mr Barnes. He could already feel the sadness, as one of his stars was to be leaving at the end of the Summer Term. Pip, he of the unruly blond hair and sharp inquisitive eyes, would at the end of his scholarship year move on to public school. In the cold sun he peered again at the lists in front of him. He spied a third piece of paper undiscovered underneath the list of new First Form boys. This piece of paper had just one name on it, for the sole new boy in another year, the Fifth Form. Alexei Morgan was his name. Unusual.
Helpfully there was a photograph attached, well balanced features, big dark eyes, partly hidden under a fringe of neatly trimmed dark hair, short in height. The surname, Morgan, he shared it with Peter Morgan. Another look. Alexei must be Peter's younger brother. Mr Barnes looked more closely at the photograph. Yes, there was a familiar look to the face if you allowed for the different complexions, from Peter's olive skin to his younger brother's paler, complexion. Next to Alexei's name was his date of birth. It must be a misprint, he mused, either that or Alexei really was exactly one year younger than his brother.
A check of the class list for the Fifth Form, suggested that there was no error in the date of birth. Alexei was an eleven-year-old boy, nearly twelve despite looking considerably younger. So why was he coming to the school so late and not at age eight like his brother?
During the few quiet moments he had that afternoon, Mr Barnes found himself drawn repeatedly to the picture of the new boy. The photograph was, he supposed, taken in their Hong Kong home, judging from the lush vegetation on show in the garden. It was a typical family photograph taken at some formal do such as a wedding. Alexei's apparently smart outfit of white shirt and black waistcoat was now not quite so neat as intended, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his shirt untucked and shirt unbuttoned, any tie long since removed. Alexei's hair was mussed up and sweaty, sticking to his forehead, his expression not hiding his bored state.
Knowing it was his second to last term, Pip had arrived early, his family callously discarded with minimum fuss at Paddington station where Pip took himself unaccompanied by train all the way to Penzance. He was one of the first to be greeted by Mr Barnes, dropped off early in the afternoon by Mr Wallace who had met him at Penzance station.
"Hello, sir, still here then?" was the greeting Pip gave Mr Barnes.
"I have not yet expired nor been sent down in disgrace despite cheek from boys like you, Pip. Now run along. I have put you in Six West. You are sharing a bunk with Owen. I dare say you want to grab the top bunk before he arrives."
"Oh yes, sir, thank you." Pip turned and started to gather his things that he had unceremoniously dumped around his feet. Six West, 6W, was rated the top dorm in the school, a small dormitory with just six beds arranged in three sets of bunks, looking westwards towards Land's End with dramatic views of the sea and the cliffs along the North Coast on one side and on the other overlooking the school's driveway down which a procession of cars was beginning to arrive.
This time last term Pip had discovered as usual that he was still bunking with Jonathan as he had through all of his time at The Rocks. This term he knew not to ask Mr Barnes, as it would have made no difference. Mr Durrant had already separated the boys for the well being of both, something he had done in consultation with Captain Porter as they checked the dormitory arrangements the day before.
"Now there is space in 6W, we can move Cox up with Owen."
Mr Durrant had questioned Jonathan being put in charge of 5W, Pip's old dormitory. "Is it altogether wise to make Pierce dormitory captain, Captain Porter?"
"It is always a risk with Pierce, but really, I think we should set him this challenge, see whether he can accept more responsibility. He deserves the chance. After all, he will be the oldest boy in the school in the autumn and in theory, the most likely candidate to be Head Boy. Plus I aim to make him responsible for a new boy, Peter Morgan's younger brother, who will be joining us this term."
Pierce as Head Boy seemed an unlikely event at present, mused Mr Durrant.
Pip raced up the stairs. Still the enthusiast in all things, mused Mr Barnes. Mr Barnes now found himself busy as a steady trickle of boys turned into a stream of boys. So he could no longer do more than greet boys quickly and then send them on their way to their allocated dormitories to unpack, most with parents, some without.
Upstairs in 6W, top bunk bagged, Pip looked out of the window. Peering into the bright early January sun Pip watched a procession of cars arrive at the school. Triumphs, Rovers, the odd flashy Jaguar and the occasional Land Rover turned through the gates and scrunched down the drive towards the school's main entrance to offload one or more boys ready for the start of term.
Behind Pip the oversized Owen arrived with a sigh and a mopping of sweaty brow. He dumped his bags on the newly polished floor and, after a moment's hesitation, joined Pip at his observation point.
"Welcome back, Owen, nice hols?"
"Oh, just my birthday, a supply of too small jumpers, exactly the same presents as I was given last year. Does no one have any imagination or think to ask? I wanted an air gun. Well, what about you?"
Pip looked at his extra large friend, his eyes hidden behind a slightly greasy fringe, a shifty look enhanced by his permanently downcast eyes. That they remained friends was something of a mystery to everyone else as Owen was very much the outcast, a loner. However, Pip stayed loyal to Owen right from his early days as a timid new boy when Owen had protected him on several occasions.
"Not much to report. Boring sherry parties, boring presents, mostly a boring time. Well, at least I got these books to read." Pip indicated the pile of about half a dozen books. "Oh and we went to Paris for a couple of nights for New Year. The ferry crossing was rough, though."
Owen spied a van coming through the gates of the school. "Come on, the trunks have arrived."
The two boys went downstairs to fetch their trunks now arriving in the hallway downstairs, passing Mrs Prince as they went.
"Welcome back, boys."
"Welcome back, Miss."
"I hope you will continue to come to my art club this term. I was thinking you might want to continue with your watercolours. The landscape in winter suits your style, I think."
"Oh, I will, Miss, certainly."
It took two boys to bring each trunk up the stairs, packed as they were with school uniforms, games things, weekend clothing, books and games plus the odd toy or personal item that at this age was guiltily hidden away at the back of a boy's locker. Up the stairs came a stream of boys, the Johnson twins amongst them. Announcing themselves with a gale of noise, they joined Pip and Owen in 6W along with Clancy who was currently arranging his library of books on the shelves next to his bunk.
Mid afternoon Pip met Jonathan on the stairs.
Jonathan glanced up from under his fringe of translucent hair. "Oh hello, Pip, glad to be back?"
The answer was not really a question, more of a way of keeping awkwardness at bay. "In this weather? No." There was fidgeting on both sides.
"Well, I've got my trunk to fetch."
The two boys separated, neither keen to be caught in discussion with the other. Jonathan made his way to 5W, directly below 6W and laid claim to the top tier of his assigned bunk situated in the corner by the window looking westwards. The bottom one, still empty, was to be occupied by a boy with the name 'Morgan A'. Jonathan did a double take. He knew no boy with that name at the school. He was worried. A new boy could be anything. More pleasing for Jonathan was the red star by his name on the list on the door, acknowledging that he had replaced Pip as dorm captain. After unpacking, Jonathan made his way down stairs in search of companionship, conscious as always of his tow-white hair drawing attention to his presence at every turn.
As Pip sorted out his socks upstairs, the noise of another car arriving diverted his attention. It was the Morgans in a new expensive looking German car. Not many of them were to be seen in this part of the country. Pip and Owen were sat on the window ledge, Owen taking in the comings and goings.
"Look, it's a BMW. You can see the logo on the front." Pip was not as impressed as Owen. He leaned towards the MG as the car of his dreams. Nevertheless, he stopped sorting his socks and looked out of the window as the car crunched to a halt. Out stepped Peter Morgan, the new Head Boy and Pip's classmate. He eyed up the main building of the school.
"Back in the jug again," the weariness of a long flight from Hong Kong the previous day telling in his voice. Mrs Morgan stepped out of the car, pulling her skirt down to the middle of her thigh. Mrs Morgan was quite glamorous. Although meant to be a private word to her son, Mrs Morgan's voice drifted upwards to the open dormitory window.
"Now, Peter, as the new Head Boy that is hardly the right attitude to start a new term with, is it?"
Peter went round to the back of the car and opened the boot, busying himself to distract his mother who could be quite strict on occasions.
"Oh, Mother, I am only joking, honest."
"Darling, yes, I know you are, but today, well, you know." She looked meaningfully at the car. Peter blushed. He had picked on a sensitive subject, a discussion they had had on the flight. Mrs Morgan was trying to hide her own inner turmoil, her doubts about today. She faltered as the back car door opened and Peter's older sister, the very glamorous Samantha, stepped out followed uncertainly by a smaller boy holding her hand. Mr Barnes at least had a clue to the boy's identity. His face matched the face from the photograph. At first the mystery boy's face was not visible to those above as he was looking out towards the sea, kicking the gravel suspiciously before emerging after his sister and standing up, totally concealed by the car apart from his red hair.
Uncertainly the younger boy took in the view slowly and then turned and braved a look up at the main part of the school. His gaze took in the window where Pip was peering out. Their eyes crossed paths briefly. The boy's eyes were partially hidden under a long fringe. As soon as he made eye contact with Pip, the mystery boy turned his gaze elsewhere, sizing up The Rocks and its surroundings. Of Pip's brief glimpse of the boy's face, one feature was immediately visible. He had the remains of a black eye, a purplish ring visible even to Pip looking from the dormitory window.
Peter, knowing he was in disgrace with his mother, tried to put right his previous wrong and sound enthusiastic again.
"Come on, Sacha. Welcome to your new school. There's an awful lot for me to show you."
"That's a good idea. Why don't you show him around?"
"I will once we get settled in."
So Sacha was his name. Pip stored it away. It was an unusual name, not one he was familiar with at all.
Mrs Morgan looked uncertainly around the school. Was this the right place for her youngest? It had not been her idea to send him to The Rocks. She would have preferred to keep Sacha at St Christopher's in Hong Kong, but Mr Morgan would have none of it. The boy had to go to school in England to have the best chance of getting a scholarship to a good school. Best to start him out with a school they were familiar with through Peter than straight into a new and alien school to all of them. Reluctantly Mrs Morgan had agreed to the plan, especially now that Samantha was not far away in Bristol, having just started her medical degree.
Sacha, dressed in his all-new uniform, looked uncertainly all around him, taking everything in. He continued to hold his sister's hand. It was strange, as uncomfortable as the clothes he had put on for the first time that morning. With his other hand he clung tightly to a small kit bag with his regulation overnight things packed inside. The boy's uniform school shorts confirmed his status as probably a Fourth Former.
Mrs Morgan kissed Peter quickly on his cheek before he turned away and headed towards the front entrance to greet Mr Barnes, embarrassed by his mother's tenderness in public. "Good afternoon, sir. Good to be back."
"Good to see you too, Peter, and I see you have brought someone new with you this time?"
"My brother, sir. He's coming to join us this term."
Brother? Then Pip remembered. Peter had mentioned a younger brother on a few occasions.
"Ah yes, we were expecting him."
Mr Barnes walked up to the car where two trunks were emerging from the boot. Sacha, helped by his sister, pulled at one end of his trunk then stopped, distracted by Mr Barnes who came up to the car.
Mrs Morgan put her left arm around Sacha's shoulders as the boy raised his head in query, again a flash of dark eyes.
"Good afternoon, Mr Barnes."
"Good afternoon, Mrs Morgan, and you, sir, must be Alexei?"
Sacha looked up at his mother, his nose raised in a mixture of query and pleading. Something was not quite right. Seeing Sacha's discomfort, Mrs Morgan intervened on his behalf.
"Actually, he is always called Sacha, rather than Alexei. Alexei is strictly for his birth certificate and passport. It's a family thing."
"Oh, how unusual. Alexei is rather a fine name, but then so is Sacha, unique in the school. We don't have either. Don't worry. A number of our boys are called by their informal names." Mrs Morgan paused, then thought to explain the naming discrepancy.
"He is named after my father, his grandfather – the Russian bit of the family."
Mr Barnes wrote a little note for Mrs Porter to change the details for Sacha in all the school records.
Mrs Porter went on. "I do hope it is not too much bother squeezing him in for this year."
"Oh, not at all. His report tells us Sacha is quite a catch academically. Isn't that so, Sacha?"
The boy spoke with a slight lisp, more pronounced at the moment, as he was still very tired after the long flight yesterday.
"He means you're supposed to be bright, clever dick." Peter hovered, not happy at Sacha's time in the limelight.
"Oh, yes sir, I suppose so."
Mr Barnes turned to Peter. "Well, perhaps, Peter, you can take your younger brother up to his dorm. He is in the one below yours, 5W. Matron has put a nameplate on his locker there. He's bunking with Jonathan Pierce, who will be acting as his Shadow too."
"Pierce as your Shadow? Oh that will be interesting for you, Sacha."
"It means he is responsible for looking after you, showing you where things are and that sort of thing."
"I can't do it. I'm Head Boy as of this term, but don't worry. I'll be around of course, but it is best to have a Shadow in your dorm."
Pip realised Sacha was older than he had first estimated. He must be a Fifth Former to be in 5W with Jonathan. Pip watched as Sacha turned towards his mother seeking confirmation. "Shall I go with Peter now?"
"Yes, dear, you had better run along."
"Come on, Sacha, I will show you your dorm and introduce you to Pierce."
Mrs Morgan kissed her youngest firmly on his cheek. Sam lifted him off the ground in a big hug and kissed the top of his head.
"Don't let big bro tease you, you hear?"
Sacha's indignant reply was part muffled by his head in her chest. "Come on, let me go."
Sacha glared at his sister briefly as she put him down and visibly bridled when she tapped him on his nose with her finger.
"Sacha, you had better run along. We will see you in next to no time. You've got Peter here and I am at Bristol Uni so not too far away. Just keep your nose clean and do write ever so often. More than your brother, I hope."
Sacha looked back at his mother, but he knew that it was time to go inside. Overt displays of affection were not the done thing at school as Peter had drilled into him on the long boring flight over from Hong Kong.
This was the first time Sacha would live in England. To him Hong Kong was the only home he knew, the place where he was born and where he had spent all his eleven years to date. To Sacha, England and Europe were places he visited in the summer. He felt unfamiliar with many things around him, even though he knew he was supposed to belong here in this subdued grey and cold land. However, he recognised much of what The Rocks was about from his time at St Christopher's back in Hong Kong.
Their two boys now securely in the hands of The Rocks, the female Morgans disappeared in a jet of gravel up the school drive. Pip turned back to the dorm, intrigued by the sight of the new boy. The moment he had set eyes on Sacha Pip knew he was captivated in a way he had not experienced before. Compared to Jonathan, Sacha was times ten, but ten of what? Throughout the afternoon Mr Barnes continued to tick off names as the steady stream of boys continued to arrive. Once he was satisfied he had a full complement, he would hand the list to Captain Porter in his study just before tea.
With Peter's arrival 6W was now complete. The six boys of 6W luxuriated in their prestige status of being in the top dorm and stayed inside, unpacking and ordering their possessions. Because of the pitch of the roof, they even had their own sitting area formed by a lower bunk against one wall and a piano stool on the other.
Apart from Peter the boys in the dorm gathered in the sitting area. The twins took up position on the piano stool as Clancy produced his Christmas present, a book of African anthropology. What held the interest of the other boys were the images of young tribeswomen, naked from the waist up, proudly displaying their prominent breasts to the photographer without a hint of modesty or shame. The twins studied the pictures with interest, the book shared between them, each with one knee up and the other touching his brother's. There was an earnest silence as the twins flicked the pages back and forth before they found their favourite image, four necklaced girls in their late teens, breasts proudly displayed, eyes glazed as they took part in some tribal courtship ceremony.
When Owen and Pip's turn came to look at the book, Pip turned the pages one after the other, stopping for only the most interesting images. Guiltily, Pip found himself pausing not just at the bare breasted girls of interest to the others, but also at a rites of passage ceremony for boys. Two African boys about his age stared curiously at the camera, naked but for a single string around their waist and another around one ankle. What interested Pip was the pride on the faces of both boys, boys yet becoming men. Clancy peered over Pip's shoulder seeing his interest.
"Rites of passage, it happens at about the age of puberty, at about our age."
Pip tried not to look too interested as Clancy decided to take the book back for now. After unpacking all their clothes and other miscellaneous items, the remainder of the afternoon was spent by the boys renewing acquaintances, some showing off of Christmas presents and checking the various lists that the school thrived on.
Teatime came along all too quickly, the first meeting of the whole school. The six boys of 6W descended down for tea as a group. To show their superiority to the rest, they deliberately came down last. All the boys in the school gathered to form a noisy queue outside the dining hall. Pip joined the queue with with Clancy and the ever hungry Owen. Just ahead were Peter and the Johnson twins. Halfway along the queue were the boys of 5W. Jonathan marked out their position, his hair still catching the light even as dusk approached. Next to him was the new boy Sacha, staying close to Jonathan, but so far not talking to anyone, but occupying his time looking around him to try and become familiar with his new home. The two boys were similar in height Pip noticed. The Johnson twins were still intrigued about Peter's claims to having a girlfriend in France last summer. In the absence of any further evidence from Peter other than two blurry photographs of an admittedly good looking teenage girl, there were widely differing views as to whether or not Peter had been going steady or not. If anyone knew how true this claim was, it would have to be his brother Sacha. Now he had joined the school, the ever-curious Johnson twins were very keen to have the truth from Sacha. Normally the boys did not mix between years as a rule, but the Johnson twins, decided to see what they could find out from Sacha.
As the new boy sat down awkwardly at a table with Jonathan and two other Fifth Formers, the twins pounced and sat on the same table. Pip, seeing his chance, grabbed a seat, at the end next to Sacha. On the opposite side to Sacha was Jonathan who looked once in his direction and then swiftly away, his awkwardness in Pip's presence uncharacteristically visible.
As Sacha started to pick at his food, uncomfortable in his new surroundings, Pip was able to examine him close to. Apart from the dark chestnut red hair, closer examination showed the new boy had pale translucent skin dotted with well-defined freckles. Apart from the bruising around his left eye, he also had a cut behind his ear and two faint scars, one on his left cheek and one above his brow, the usual marks of boyhood.
The twins wanted information about Peter's adventures with his cousin.
"So did you see your cousin Emma last summer?"
Kit started the questioning as always. Robbie rarely took the lead in these situations, preferring to lead his brother on the pitch or track. Sacha looked up from his sausages and mash, a couple of baked beans speared on his fork, a type of food largely alien to him. He looked puzzled at this first opening question from the identical twins whom he had never met before. Why the interest in his cousin Emma?
Pip watched Sacha intently. He noticed the boy's deep set and dark eyes were questioning and uncertain.
"What do you know about Emma?" Sacha was not at all sure about where this line of conversation was heading. So he parried with an ambiguous answer. "She's a cousin."
"Oh, Peter has said quite a lot about Emma."
Pip helped out, his first chance to speak to the new boy. Sacha looked at the tallish fair skinned boy sitting beside him. His hair, sunburnt blond still, was feathered on top and cropped back at the sides, but not at the back where it remained long.
"Peter claimed that your cousin Emma was his girlfriend last summer. Is that true?"
All eyes turned to Sacha. Sacha knew he had to give some sort of answer. To say no to a group of boys he would be spending much of the next fourteen weeks with was hardly likely to endear him to them. Knowing that there was no avoiding the issue, he collected his thoughts and then gave an answer that he hoped would satisfy everyone.
"Well, they did go off together a few times when we were on holiday last summer." He went back to his plate, probing a sausage, uncertain whether that would be enough. It wasn't. Kit probed further.
"Where on holiday?"
"In the South of France. We were camping with my uncle and aunt."
"So what's this about them in the back of a car?"
Peter had claimed that the climax of his time with Emma had involved a romantic encounter in the back of her father's car late one night. Sacha looked up from under his fringe. He remained quiet. A frown crossed his face. Perhaps he had said too much already? He could be in trouble with Peter. Intrigued, the Johnson twins fired a rapid set of questions at Sacha.
"Were they sharing a tent together?"
"No, Peter was sharing with me."
"Was he in the tent with you every night?"
"Yes, every night of course."
"Did he get up to anything with Emma then or is it all untrue?"
Sacha looked around. Peter was talking to Mr Durrant, tray in hand. Sacha was trapped and would have to deal with this by himself. "Well, he did come back late with Emma one night and they got into trouble, but I don't know any more as I was already asleep."
Sacha, unhappy with this barrage, began to look uncomfortable, a sensation increased when Peter approached with his plate of bangers and mash. Peter made room for himself by squeezing in between Kit and a Fifth Former.
"Mixed company I see. What's this all about?" He looked first at the Johnson twins and then saw that the focus was firmly on Sacha. "For those of you have not been formally introduced, this is my little brother. He's new to the school this term. Say hello, Sacha."
"Hello." Sacha looked around obediently and nodded at the assembled boys. He disliked intensely being referred to as 'little' even though he was conscious that that was exactly what he was. He bristled, but kept it to himself. Now was probably not the time to pick a fight with Peter.
"So what is this all about? Some kind of interrogation of the new boy?" Peter turned to his brother. "Sacha, what have you been saying?" There was a veiled air of menace in Peter's voice.
"Nothing much. Besides I'm finished with tea. So I'm going now." Sacha knew it was time to exit before Peter got nasty with him. He looked around, seeing other boys already leaving, trays in hand, and rose from the table, following in their wake.
Pip's curiosity got the better of him. He bolted the remains of his last sausage and got up to follow Sacha as the others remained and began to cross-examine Peter again on his claims for Emma, now armed with the additional information given by Sacha. As Sacha headed to the door following the other boys he was not sure what to do with his plate and glass. Seeing this, Pip came alongside him and guided the new boy.
"Here, you put your things just here, like this." Pip separated everything out on his tray and Sacha, observing closely obediently followed suit.
"Oh thanks." It was simple once you knew what to do. The two boys walked out of the dining room, picking up their duffel coats off the racks as they left and walked into the gathering dusk of an early January afternoon. All the boys were excused prep because it was the first day back. Because it was cold and had rained recently, most boys retreated indoors. However, Pip decided to follow Sacha down the path past the playing fields to Parson's Leap, the school's own little headland. Pip caught up with the younger boy on the second terrace.
"It's a mixed blessing having Peter as your bro." Sacha turned around, weary of questions from boys he did not know, suspicious now of the motives.
"Yes, it is sometimes."
Pip ventured another question. "You must be pretty close in age?"
"We are a year apart, exactly one year apart, to the day. We share our birthday."
Sacha turned and looked at the fair-haired boy now walking beside him, hands in pockets.
"I didn't catch your name, sorry."
"Oh, it's Cox, Philip Cox, Pip to everyone, like the boy in Great Expectations . I'm in the Sixth Form with Peter and we are in the top dorm as well."
Sacha absorbed this and other new information as the two boys walked single file down the path towards the cliff top on which the school was perched. Pip led the way down the path as it zigzagged down the various pitches.
"Oh, that's right. Peter mentioned you on the flight over. He said you were one of the boys doing scholarship exams."
"Oh, did he?"
"He pointed at you in the school photo from last year."
"How did you know it was me?" Pip was now very curious.
"You stood out." Sacha was good at leaving some things unsaid in his answers.
"Why was that? I mean, why did I stand out?"
"Your hair. You had long blond hair in the picture Peter showed me. Not now of course as it has been cut. You had very light streaky hair, the lightest of all of them, I mean apart from the boy with white hair. Jonathan's in my dormitory, he has the bunk above mine. He's my Shadow."
Sacha did not give a complete answer to the question. Peter had said more about Pip and one or two other boys including Jonathan, but Sacha knew better than to say more just now.
"Strawberry blond, that is what they say I am, strawberry blond in summer when the sun gets to it, not as much as when I was younger. Jonathan's hair is always like that. Still having Jonathan as your Shadow, that should be fun."
"That's what Peter said. Why?"
"Oh, he gets up to all sorts, does Jonathan. You will never have a dull moment with him. His hair was not always that colour. He fell out of the top of a tree when he was younger and it turned that colour afterwards apparently. He's in your form. I was in the same form as him until last year, but not this year as I leave in the summer."
"How come? I mean how come you are a year ahead now?"
"Oh, there are only two months between me and Jonathan. I am the youngest in the Sixth Form and he is the oldest in the Fifth. I was born in August and he was born in September. If you are going to do a scholarship, they move you up through the Forms faster. I did my first year in two terms, that sort of thing."
"Oh, it all sounds a bit complicated. They say I am supposed to do the scholarship next year."
Sacha chewed on all this information for a little while in silence. He never spoke unless he had something to say. Idle chatter wasn't part of his make up. Pip normally chatted away with anyone. However, with this new boy he struggled for something more to say. He felt he must keep the conversation going to avoid any awkwardness. He wanted to get to know Sacha. He was already very drawn to the younger boy, not because he held the key to his brother's reputation as a girl conqueror, but for Sacha himself. Pip let Sacha take the lead, content to follow so he could observe the younger boy.
In the coming weeks Pip would get to find out that Sacha was a confident boy, normally at the centre of attention, a position he achieved not by being an out and out extrovert like Jonathan, but the quietly confident sort of boy like his brother Peter. But despite his confidence, Sacha could be engagingly shy and self-deprecating. Pip guessed Sacha's skills in handling others came from having a slightly older brother. Peter and Sacha had probably been treated like a pair of twins some of the time, much like the Johnson twins always were. So he was always used to being with other people, but there was something else about Sacha that drew Pip to him. It was part physical, he could sense that, but part something else, something in his personality, something guarded that Pip had detected almost immediately.
The two boys walked across the pitch towards the cliff edge. Off the field they passed the chapel ruins, the Celtic cross and the burial mound before finally reaching the little promontory with the dovecote where two bench seats looked out over the sea. Unbidden, Sacha sat down. Pip sat next to him, looking out to sea. Sacha was happy to sit silently, contemplating his survival of his first day at his new school. His legs kicking out underneath him, the gravel flying out from under his shoes, his knees scarred with the usual marks most boys accumulate at that age.
Pip started the conversation again, wanting to learn more about Sacha.
"Sacha, that's an unusual name."
"No different to Pip. That's hardly usual is it?"
"Well, Pip is just short for Philip, not that unusual."
"My mother, she's half Russian. She decided to christen me Alexei as most of the boys in the family carry that name. She doesn't really like the name Alexei. So she has always insisted that I am called Sacha. It was the same with my grandfather and great grandfather when they were boys. My great grandfather was supposedly something important before the Russian revolution, but I don't know what."
"Well, you are the only Sacha I have ever heard of, slightly exotic."
"That's what everyone says. Sometimes I wish it was just Alex, short for Alexei or like Peter, something a bit more normal. I mean it doesn't go with the surname does it? Morgan is Cornish after all. That is why we are here at The Rocks, Peter and me. My father rather fancied the idea. He went to school here during the war when it was St Finian's."
"Oh, I don't think it's a bad idea having an unusual name. Imagine being called John. There are so many other boys with the same name. I think there is a Peter or John in almost every class at The Rocks."
The sun was setting rapidly. Pip pointed out the sights whilst they were still visible. All the time the waves kept up a running accompaniment, crashing onto the rocks below them before swishing back out to sea again. Pip looked at his watch. Free time was important in a boarding school where the boys were deliberately kept occupied from morning until bedtime each day. In the view of Captain Porter constant activity was the best way to keep all sorts of mischief at bay.
"We had better get back, Sacha. Evening prayers in ten minutes."
"What happens then?"
"Well, typically, after prayers it is prep, then free time until bedtime and showers."
"I'll follow you. I don't know where I am going yet."
"This way," Pip shouted against the wind. "Prayers and assemblies are in the big barn over there, the one we were in earlier with the dining hall. The other end is for PE and changing rooms."
The boys walked back together towards the buildings. The lights had now been switched on to counteract the gathering gloom. Assembly was just about to start when Pip and Sacha arrived. Pip directed Sacha to his Fifth year group two rows in front of the Sixth Form. Being the first day of term, the boys grew restless as an interminable list of announcements that were being made about games, places out of bounds, the rugger fixtures and the annual trip to Scotland. Captain Porter kept that until last.
"Finally I want to mention the annual trip for some of the older boys to Staffin Lodge up on the Isle of Skye. Those of you in the Fifth and Sixth Forms can sign up for a place. If there are more names than places, I will prioritise Sixth Formers, as this is their last chance. The trip is at the end of term just before the Easter holidays."
Pip remembered being bitterly disappointed last year as he had missed out on the trip. He had been considered too young to undertake the various hikes that took place during the trip.
After prayers the older boys went back to their dorms to tidy up the inevitable mess from unpacking. As they walked upstairs, Owen came alongside him.
"We should be able to go this year, Pip."
"I hope so, yes." Pip was already thinking ahead. Which Fifth Formers would be going? He hoped Sacha would be coming. Elsewhere in the school, the younger boys were made ready for bed, earlier than usual much to their vociferous protests. When Pip and Owen entered their dorm, Peter had already succumbed to jetlag and quietly taken himself to bed, his head facing the wall oblivious to the noise around him. One floor below him, his younger brother Sacha had similarly thrown himself into bed at the earliest opportunity. He was now sprawled motionless face down, completely buried under his bed linen. Mrs Porter came in to check on the Fifth Form dormitory since it was the first day of term. She looked over to where Sacha was lying face down under the covers. The covers looked as though they might fall off in the night. So carefully Mrs Porter rearranged the bedding, pulling the eiderdown right up almost over his head so that it would not fall off. From the bunk above Jonathan watched Mrs Porter. He had yet to change properly, his shorts off, his shirt unbuttoned, still two socks half dangling from his feet. As she rose from tucking Sacha into his bed, Mrs Porter playfully tugged on one of Jonathan's socks.
"Time to get ready for bed, Jonathan. You are too old for me to dress you now," a reminder of an earlier age when Jonathan, feigning clumsiness, had persuaded Mrs Porter to dress him the first morning at school.
Excused from dormitory duties, Mr Barnes sat in his room and after turning on the fire, set to solving the Times crossword, a glass of scotch beside him. Seeing as it was the first day of term, Mr Barnes had poured an extra large tot for himself, his only vice he liked to think, ignoring the smoke trailing from the ever-present cigarette in its holder.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead