Never and AlwaysBy: Maureen Driscoll
Mark Jones had to fight the urge to turn the carriage around as he stepped onto the grounds of Eton College to deliver his youngest son to one of England’s best educational institutions. Countless Prime Ministers, generals and world-class scholars had begun their ascent to greatness at the famous school. Mark himself had gone here, some forty years earlier. And while his son Quentin was an exceptionally bright and clever boy who looked forward to following in the footsteps of so many men in their family, Mark found it difficult to even think about leaving him alone at the imposing school.
Which is why he had brought so many family members along for support.
As Quentin looked up at the grand school in front of him, he moved just a bit closer to his father. “Papa,” he said. “You liked Eton, did you not?”
Now that would be a difficult question to answer honestly. For Mark had been miserable in his early months at the school, not only because he had been a charity student from the London stews, but also because he had begun mid-year in January, instead of during the usual Michaelmas term in early September. By the time he had arrived, most of the boys had already found their friends and roamed the school in packs which could be quite vicious. And while Mark’s early life on the streets had made him more than capable of defending himself physically, the loneliness had been excruciating. But then he thought about the reason he had grown to like Eton. It wasn’t for the education, though he would be forever grateful for his schooling. It was because he had met two of his best friends here.
“This is where I met your uncles, Quentin. This is where we went on some of our grandest adventures.”
Now Quentin looked particularly unsure of himself. “Do you think I shall make friends here?”
Of all their extended family and friends, Quentin would be the only boy to arrive at Eton without knowing anyone else. Mark was once again tempted to put him right back in the carriage. He hated thinking of his son having to endure what he had. But as difficult as it was, he knew it was time for his son to begin this journey.
“Of course you shall make friends. I did, after all. And if I hadn’t come here, I never would have met your beautiful mama.”
Quentin frowned. “I am glad you met Mama, but I don’t want to meet girls. I just want to have friends.”
“You will make plenty of friends,” said Robert Carmichael, Marquess of Selden, who had insisted on accompanying Mark and his son.
Mark believed Robert had come to support him just as much as Quentin.
“This is where we all met,” added Lord Wesley Addington, who was also along for the ride. “And one day when you bring your son to school, mayhap your two best mates will come along with you, too.”
“But doesn’t that mean I’ll have to get married, too?” asked Quentin, rather shaken by the notion.
“By that time I think you’ll have grown quite accustomed to the idea,” said Wes.
“If you say so,” said Quentin dubiously.
“All three of us met our wives because we came to Eton,” said Wes.
“I thought girls aren’t allowed here.” The day seemed to be getting worse and worse for poor Quentin.
“That was true back then, as well. But your papa and Uncle Robert and I forged a friendship on the green over there.” Wesley pointed to a patch of grass and in an instant he was transported back to the middle of his first school year.
The Love Story of Lord Wesley Addington and Miss Violet Kellington
Eton, February, 1826
Wes could not remember being this cold for this long as he walked across the green. He had spent all thirteen years of his life in England so he was used to the cold, dreary winters, but he had formerly spent much of his time indoors next to a fire at either his family’s comfortable country estate or in the Mayfair mansion when his father the earl had duties in the House of Lords. He had spent little time walking anywhere without benefit of a carriage. And he had never experienced interior temperatures which were only a few degrees warmer than outside. Yet it had taken only a semester at England’s most prestigious school to acquaint him with all the deprivations he never thought it was possible to endure.
Coming to school had been a shock in many ways, not the least of which was the poor quality of the food and the drafty houses where the students took their lodging. He had thought Eton might be a junior version of the comfortable clubs his father belonged to.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Conditions were especially rough for first-year students like himself. The upperclassmen liked to steal blankets at night and you could even face similar treatment from boys your own age if you belonged to the wrong group of friends. Fortunately, Wes was part of one of the most popular groups at school. He and his mates still suffered abuse, but not as much as other boys. The charity students had it worst of all, of course. For most of them couldn’t simply write home with a plea for more blankets. For the charity boys, the loss of a blanket one night might mean an entire term without one.