Our children have returned to school, and was ever thus, but for a privileged few different…
The Beaconsfield Special, a steam train with four carriages and three guard’s vans, was drawn up alongside Platform Twelve of Waterloo Station.
Wide eyed and holding tightly to his mother’s hand, Yann followed the porter and the two-wheeled trolley carrying his school trunk into the mayhem; Naomi and Isaac were just behind them. The porter unloaded the large brown ribbed case, on which had been painted Y MORRIS in bold black letters onto the pile of other trunks stacked by the guard’s vans, ready for loading.
Clutching his mother’s hand tightly, Yann froze, suddenly frightened, and caused her to stop. Everyone he loved – his mother, Auntie Naomi and Uncle Isaac – had done their best. Told him how luck he was, but he didn’t want to go. He couldn’t understand why they were sending him so far away, to be with people he had never met. What had he done wrong? Was it because of Uncle Sebastian/s terribly accident on his way back from his new school? He didn’t understand why his mother didn’t love him any more, it made him feel very unhappy. He promised no more tears, but his eyes started to prickle.
Ahead were dozens of boys and parents clustered around two schoolmasters clad in black gowns.
He had never seen so many boys, most of them much older and bigger than him. Soon enough they reached the crowd and one of the schoolmasters pushed through towards them. He had a clipboard in his hand.
“Name?” He asked, look at the adults.
“Morris.” Isaac answered.
“Ah yes the little lad from Bath,” the master said pleasantly, finding the name and ticking it off. Then he looked down at Yann and held his hand out. “My name is Martin Kohn, I shall be your housemaster in Galsworthy. Now let me see,” he looked at his list again, “just stand by me for a moment and I will find one of the deputy prefects to look after you until we reach school.”
He looked up to the three adults again. “Best to say your goodbyes here and now. Short and quick I think is always best don’t you?” In a second he had turned to someone else.
Naomi bent down and kissed him on the forehead. Isaac just squeezed his arm.
“Good luck Yann and don’t forget your promise to write to your mother each week.”
Ruth knelt down, so that her head was level with Yann’s and hugged him so tightly that he was frightened she would crease his new blazer. “Remember that Mummy loves you more than anything in the whole world and you make me so proud. Goodbye, my beautiful little brave boy.”
“I am sorry about making Uncle Sebastian die, Mummy.” He hoped she wouldn’t start to cry, because it looked like she could and then that would make him want to cry too. But she breathed in heavily and quickly stood up.
He gave a small wave with a half raised arm, as he watched all three of them retreat down the platform. No one looked back.
The next think he knew, Mr Kohn had grasped him by the shoulder. He turned round and saw a large boy hovering next to him.
“Morris, this is Freeman. He is in Galsworthy too and will settle you into the train.” He turned to the boy. “Remember that you are responsible for delivering him to the Dame.”
Yann clambered into the carriage and Freeman motioned him to the corner seat by the door, with “A new sprog, Morris” as an introduction to the other senior boys. None acknowledged him. Unnoticed, he sat stiffly erect and unblinking. He had never been on a train and was with complete strangers. He wished he was by a window so that he could catch one last glance of his mother, uncle and aunt.
With a final flurry and whistle blast, the train lurched, lurched again and jerkily moved off, gathering speed. Freeman stood back against the closed door to the corridor, preventing anyone from entering; all three corridor window blinds were down.
Throughout the journey, Yann sat on his hands and looked down at his neatly laced shoes as he listened to the group of boys swapping stories about their summer holiday. He felt very conscious of his new purple blazer, with its bright crest and gleaming yellow piping, unlike the other boys’ dull and faded jackets.
Yann wept himself to sleep in the bleak dormitory that first night and for many that followed. To his shame and embarrassment, often he woke up in a wet bed the following morning. The Dame never said anything.
An extract from chapter twenty one of – ‘ Go Swift and Far – a Tale of Bath’ The first book of The Westcott Chronicles