They drove for just over an hour, until they had driven from West Sussex through to Hampshire. The school was right between the two military towns Aldershot and Andover.
“Alright lads, all off the skylark,” said Mr Pennington as he pulled the Range Rover in front of the school.
Simon leapt down from the front of the Range Rover, and rushed to the boot to start unloading the trunks.
They all got out of the car to help with the luggage.
“Where do we find out house Mark and Tony are in?” asked Mr Pennington.
“They’ll probably be in with Old Mitch like us,” said Nick.
“Best check with The Dragon,” groaned Simon as he lifted down Anthony’s trunk.
“What’ve you got in here Tons?”
“Books,” mumbled Anthony.
“You do know that the school has a library right?” he chuckled ruffling his brothers hair.
“Not another military brat!” moaned Simon as a jeep pulled into the school drive.
“I don’t see why you’re so surprised,” said Nick as he pulled out another trunk, “the schools between Aldershot and Andover, there’s a lot of military in the area.”
Nick had heard Simon complaining about military brats for the past five years, but Nick felt sorry for the children from forces families, their parents might not come back for all they knew.
“Hey, Pennington!” called a well-built muscly man who was talking to a sergeant, who had just gotten out of the jeep.
“Yes Sir!” called Simon.
“Sir!” called Nick.
Mr Davies, the Welsh sports master who also ran the school military cadets beckoned them over. Evan Davies had been a sergeant during the war and had taught sports at St. Christophers ever since he had been demobbed.
“Come on we’re needed,” Simon told Mark and Anthony.
The four boys ran over to the jeep.
“Ye gods they’re multiplying!” exclaimed Mr Davies.
“These two aren’t yours are they?” he asked Simon.
“Yes sir,” chuckled Simon, “Mark and Anthony, Anthony’s the one in the glasses.”
“I look forward to seeing you both on the pitch,” said Mr Davies as he shook both their hands.
“Could you four give this young lady a hand with her luggage, sergeant Lewis here has got to get back to base in Pembrokeshire.”
“Yeah sure,” nodded Simon, “what house is she in?”
“They’ve put the girls in with Mitchell, with you lot,” said Mr Davies double-checking the list.
The jeep had already pulled away, leaving behind a pile of assorted luggage.
Standing next to the pile of luggage where the jeep had been, there was a young girl with two long auburn plaits.
She must have been eleven if she was going to be in Upper Third with him, but she looked somewhat older. It wasn’t that she was tall, on the contrary, she was fairly short, but there was something almost world-weary in her eyes, that made her look wise beyond her years.
“This is Athene Richards,” said Mr Davies, “Athene, this is Simon, Nick, Mark and Anthony Pennington. You’ll be in a class with the twins, stick by them and you won’t go far wrong Cariad.”
“Thank you, Sir,” said Athene beaming, as she juggled her day bag, tuck box, and a large old shoebox tied up with string which she was carrying under her arm.
“Shake a leg and give us a hand Tons,” said Nick as he picked up half the trunk.
Anthony nodded slightly and picked up the other half.
“Hi,” said Nick as they carried her trunk up to Athene’s dorm and she followed them.
“I’m Nick, and this my little brother Anthony. I’m a prefect so if you need any help or you get lost or something, you can come and find me.”
“Thanks,” beamed Athene.
“Um, how many girls are there at this school?”
“Well this is actually the first year that’s taking them,” said Nick, “so the only girls in the whole school will be in your class.”
“Let’s hope I’m not the only one then,” muttered Athene.
“Don’t worry you won’t be,” assured Nick, “our friend Julie’s joining too, she’s great.”
“Oh yeah Julies great,” muttered Anthony, “if you like ballet dancing and ponies.”
“Not quite my cup of tea thanks!” laughed Athene, “I’d much rather read a good book.”
As Athene laughed, her eyes lit up, and Anthony noticed that there was a melodic Welsh tone to her accent.
“A girl after your own heart Tony,” chuckled Nick as they dropped off Athene’s trunk.
They had arrived in a small dormitory with five beds, dressers and desks. All five of the beds were made up with light pink sheets and the window looked out over the grounds.
“See look you won't be alone,” said Nick cheerfully as they left Athene’s trunk by one of the spare beds, “there’s going to be five of you.”
Athene seemed to cheer up immensely at this thought.
Nick and Anthony turned around to start fetching the rest of the luggage, and Athene came skipping after them.
“Don’t you want to unpack?” asked Nick.
“Oh there’s plenty of time for that,” shrugged Athene, “you helped me with your luggage, so now I’m going to help you with all of yours.”
Mark was walking backwards carrying half of his trunk, and he nearly crashed into Athene.
“Watch where you’re going Marky!” said Simon shaking his head as they walked past.
Nick and Anthony carried Nicks trunk up to the Upper Fifth dorm followed by Athene with his hand luggage before they then carried Anthony’s trunk up to his dorm, Athene following juggling Anthony’s day bag and tuck box and even Mark’s guitar.
The Upper Thirds boys dorm was opposite the girl's dorm, and was exactly the same, apart from it had ten beds and blue sheets, and had a different view out the window.
“Hey, thanks!” beamed Mark taking his guitar from Athene.
He lay down on his bed and started tuning his guitar, his unpacking forgotten.
Athene knelt down by Anthony’s trunk and helped him unpack all his things carefully.
They unpacked all the uniforms and sports kit into the wardrobe and then they hit the books.
“Swallows and Amazons!” breathed Athene.
“I’ve got the full set at home,” beamed Anthony.
Athene started to arrange the books neatly at the back of his desk.
“What’s this?” asked Athene picking up The Hobbit.
“That’s The Hobbit,” said Anthony, “it’s amazing.”
“It’s an adventure story in a fantasy world with dwarves and elves and dragon and of course hobbits.”
“Wow,” exclaimed Athene.
Books were extremely short supply, because of rationing. The war had ended seven years ago, but because of paper rationing, new books were still hard to come by.
“Could I borrow this at some point?”
“Sure, I already know it off by heart.”
“Mark, Tony,” said Mr Pennington poking his head around the dorm door, “we’ve got to meet up with Mr Mitchell before I go.”
“Oh yeah that’s right!” said Mark remembering as he threw the guitar down on the bed and leaping up.
Anthony and Athene had just finished unpacking and organising Anthony’s books on his desk.
Anthony quickly slid his tuck box under his bed before shutting his trunk.
Athene looked slightly nervous for a minute and was biting her lip.
“Can I can come with you?” she asked worried that the answer might be no.
“Of course dear,” said Mr Pennington smiling as they left the dorm.
Athene’s face split into a huge grin and practically skipped downstairs with the others.
Mr Mitchell’s office and rooms were on the first floor of the house along with the three common rooms.
Athene stopped skipping however when they reached the closed office door. She gulped slightly.
“You do it,” whispered Mark nudging his brother.
“Why should I do it?” asked Anthony confused.
“Because you’re the teacher's pet,” smirked Mark.
“I’m not!” protested Anthony.
“Oh for heaven's sake!” muttered Mr Pennington before knocking on the office door.
“Come in!” called Mr Mitchell.
Mr Pennington opened the door and went in through the door leaving the three terrified first years in the corridor.
“Hello Mr Mitchell,” chuckled Mr Pennington, “I’ve got three petrified new students out here for you.”
“Hello Brian!” said Mr Mitchell jovially getting up from the desk and shaking Mr Pennington’s hand and coming out of the office.
“Now then you two must be Mark and Anthony,” said Mr Mitchell with his hands in his jacket pocket.
“Well come in, come in.”
Anthony, Athene and Mark looked at each other nervously before walking into the office and sitting down at the desk.
“I don’t know why you look like rabbits caught in a trap, unless of course your brothers have been telling horror stories about me. Which I assure you are all rubbish.”
“Well most of them at least,” he added as an afterthought.
Mr Mitchell was a fairly cheerful man, with warm brown eyes and dark brown hair. He didn’t tend to wear a suit jacket, but usually wore a warm jumper over his shirt and tie instead. Although the students tended to refer to him as Old Mitch, Anthony noticed that Mr Mitchell didn’t look much more than thirty.
“Let me see,” he muttered, “you’re Mark.”
“Yes you must be,” he chuckled, “you’ve got a look of devilish glee in your eyes like your brother Simon used to.”
“Guilty as charged sir,” said Mark warming up to Mr Mitchell slightly.
“Which means, you must be Anthony, always got your head stuck in a book.”
“And my first girl!” beamed Mr Mitchell.
“But where are your parents? Did they have to go back early?”
“Um no sir,” said Athene riffling in her blazer pocket and fishing out a letter.
“My Dad wrote this for you last week,” she said handing him the letter.
Mr Mitchell opened the letter and scanned it quickly.
“So, you’re Athene Richards,” said Mr Mitchell putting the letter away.
“Captain Richards got called back early, then did he?”
“Yes sir,” muttered Athene pulling at the end of one of her plaits, “Malaya sir.”
“Well don’t worry young lady, we’re going to take good care of you,” he said smiling at her warmly.
“Now then,” he said, “I’m not just going to be your house master which means you can come to me if you’ve got any problems, but I’m also going to be your Latin tutor.”
“Any of you three taken Latin before?”
They all shook their heads.
“Well don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it,” said Mr Mitchell, “we’ll be starting off at square one anyway.”
“Is it true that there’s loads of school shows and concerts?” asked Mark.
“Yes that is true,” chuckled Mr Mitchell.
“Auditions for the Autumn term play will be next week, there’ll also be auditions for the school choir, and at the end of the term there’ll be the house Christmas entertainments.”
“Brilliant!” said Mark grinning madly.
“Go on get on with you,” said Mr Mitchell shaking his head and laughing, “you’ve got unpacking to do.”
They walked out of the office and Mr Pennington looked at his two sons.
“Right behave yourselves,” he said giving them both a hug, “I mean you, Mark!”
“Yes Dad,” groaned Mark.
“I’ll see you at half term.”
“Bye Dad!” said Anthony as they waved him goodbye from the driveway.
They headed back up to the dorms where three new boys had arrived, Malcolm Lloyd and Rupert Smith who were chatting as they unpacked, and another boy who had placed his trunk by the bed opposite Anthony’s.
“Hello!” said Harry holding out his hand.
“I’m Harry, Harry Knowles.”
Harry was quite all for his age, and had bright blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. His father looked like the quintessential English gentleman, and Harry was his father in miniature. He looked so comfortable in his uniform, it was is if he had born wearing a blazer and tie. Beneath the overly formal greeting though, Harry’s eyes were suing with excitement, as if he was looking forward to a new adventure.
Anthony felt slightly affronted, he wasn’t used to such a formal introduction from a boy his own age.
“Anthony Pennington,” said Anthony somewhat awkwardly.
“I’m Athene,” beamed Athene waving.
“This schools great isn’t it?” asked Harry as he started to unpack, “all the masters seem so friendly!”
Mark took a deep breath, and exhaled as he looked at his trunk, which he hadn’t even started to unpack, and then shrugged and picked his guitar back up off the bed.
“Hey Athene,” offered Anthony, “want me to help you unpack?”
“Sure,” beamed Athene.
When they got through to the girl's dorm, two girls had taken the two beds by the windows. Elizabeth and Lucy seemed to have known each other for years and were chatting away merrily.
It didn’t take them long to unpack all Athene’s school things, under her uniforms came a large quilt which was carefully folded but also seemed to be slightly lumpy.
“Be careful with that,” said Athene as Anthony lifted it out of the trunk.
Athene carefully unfolded the quilt which was made up tiny squares from scrap material. In the quilt was several photo frames.
“Granny wrapped them in the quilt so the glass wouldn’t break,” explained Athene as she sighed in relief, that the photographs were alright.
She placed the quilt on top of her bed before setting up the photographs on her desk. There was about five in total.
One showed a young couple on their wedding day, they were smiling brightly, and the young man was in uniform.
There were several photos of Athene at varying ages with her grandparents which sometimes her father was also in.
In the last photo, Captain Richards wasn’t in uniform but was wearing an old rugby top and a pair of shorts and was laughing merrily. He was preparing to throw a rugby ball to Athene who had been lifted in the air by two of his friends to catch the ball.
“Grandpa took that one,” said Athene as she noticed which photograph Anthony was looking at.
“It was only taken two weeks ago.”
“You play rugby?” asked Anthony with interest.
“Am I Welsh?” asked Athene with hands on her hips.
“Enough said,” chuckled Anthony.
They unpacked Athene’s books from her trunk and lined them up on the desk. They included Little Women, and a book called Legendary Tales from Wales’ Past. All of the books looked like they had been well-read.
As they finished setting up the last books on the desk, a tall gangly girl with short mousy brown hair came charging into the dorm followed by two older boys who were heaving her trunk.
“Just shove it down there,” she shrugged casually as she dumped her other bags by one of the spare beds.
“Right you are Charlie.”
The two boys put down the trunk and left their sister to settle in.
“Hi I’m Charlie Mackenzie,” she said.
“Athene,” said Athene waving back at her.
“That’s a strange name,” said Charlie abruptly.
“And Charlie’s not normally a girl’s name,” returned Athene.
“It’s Charlotte really,” she groaned, “but the only person who calls me that is my Mum.”
“So why did you get sent to this madhouse?”
“Well my Dads in the army,” said Athene.
“No not the madhouse in general,” corrected Charlie, “but this particular one.”
“Near military bases, I suppose,” shrugged Athene.
“Oh,” nodded Charlie, “well my older brothers go here, so it just made sense. My Dad’s a doctor in the village. Mum tried to persuade him to send me to a girl’s school, but if St Christopher’s is good enough for the boys, it was good enough for me!”
As Charlie rambled on, Elizabeth and Lucy had gone to and explore the Common Room, and a girl with a sheet of waist-length white blonde hair came into the dorm her parents carrying all her luggage.
“We’ll see you at half term alright darling?” said Mrs Fforbes Hamilton tears streaming down her face as she gave her daughter a crushing hug.
“I’ll be fine Mummy,” said Julie, “give Bunty a kiss from me!”
Mr and Mrs Fforbes Hamilton left before her mother started crying again.
“Tony!” Julie half squealed throwing herself in for a hug.
“It’s great to see you!”
“I only saw you yesterday,” stammered Anthony as Julie half crushed him.
Athene looked very confused and slightly upset. She had thought Anthony was her friend, and out of here nowhere was this new girl throwing herself at him, like they’d known each other their whole lives.
“Athene,” chuckled Anthony, “this is Julie, she’s our next-door neighbour back home. Julie this is Athene Richards and Charlie Makenzie.”
“Oh of course!” beamed Athene in a small amount of relief, “Anthony told me about you.”
Mark leapt in front of the open door to the girl’s door.
“Its Ginger Rogers!” he called flamboyantly.
“And Fred Astaire!” giggled Julie spinning over to him and giving him a hug.
“I thought I heard your voice,” chuckled Mark.
“How goes the unpacking Marky?” asked Nick who had come to check on his younger brothers.
Mark smiled at his brother, with a slightly mischievous grin on his face.
“Less of the Fred Astaire and more of the unpacking mate.”
“I can do that anytime,” groaned Mark, “I and Julie want to explore.”
“You know you’ve got a point!” beamed Charlie leaving her own unpacking as the three of them raced off down the corridor before Nick could get another word in.
“You two don’t want to join them?” asked Nick.
Athene and Anthony had both finished all their unpacking now.
“I don’t really want to explore,” shrugged Anthony, “the only fun in that would be finding somewhere quiet to read.”
“I think there’s something you two might want to see,” said Nick as inspiration hit him.
Anthony and Athene looked at each other confused as they followed Nick.
“Can’t you give us a clue?” asked Anthony as they headed over to the main school building.
“Have patience little brother, we’ll be there soon.”
Nick opened the door to one of the rooms on the ground floor and Anthony and Athene went in after him.
“Woah!” breathed Anthony.
“Crikey!” exclaimed Athene.
The room was full of shelf upon shelf of books, they reached the ceiling. Old books with yellowed pages, new books with crisp white pages, thin paperbacks, huge hardbacks. Anthony was used to lots of books around the house, with his father running a publishing company, but he’d never seen quite so many at once.
“It’s only a library,” said Nick who somehow couldn’t help himself but laugh.
“You might think it’s only a library,” muttered Anthony as his eyes looked up to the top shelf, “but to me, this is a room full of hidden treasures!”
“Nick?” asked Athene, “you don’t think there are any Latin books in here do you?”
“Latin books?” asked Nick incredulously.
“Why do you want Latin books?”
“Mr Mitchell brought it up earlier,” said Athene.
“We’ve never done it before,” added Anthony, “what if we’re really behind?”
“You’ll start with the beginning,” said Nick reassuringly, “but if you’re both worried I’ll see if I can find you something.”
Nick headed into the library properly and found a tall bookshelf. The top shelves were full of battered spare Latin textbooks for various levels, the bottom shelves had books on Greek and Roman mythology.
“Here you go,” said Nick passing Athene and Anthony a couple of books on Greek mythology each.
They checked the books out from the library, and they went back to their dorm.
They barely had enough time to drop off their books in the dorm when it was time for tea.
After tea, Anthony and Athene lay on top of Athene’s bed reading. They could hear the rest of the Upper Third playing with the gramophone in the Common Room downstairs.
Athene and Anthony were sharing a book and just reading about the birth of the Greek God of lightning Zeus, when Mark came running into the dorm quickly pursued by Harry, Julie and a soaking wet but laughing Charlie.
Charlie was soaked to the skin and still fully dressed, but she didn’t seem to care.
“What in the world?” muttered Anthony looking up.
“Harry bet I wouldn’t go in the swimming pool,” laughed Charlie.
“I didn’t mean fully dressed!” said Harry who was also laughing.
“Then you should have said so!” said Charlie.
“You didn’t give him a chance,” chortled Mark, “you’d already dived in!”
Charlie was riffling through her still packed trunk for a pair of pyjamas and a towel.
“I don’t care,” shrugged Charlie beaming, “it was fun!”
Charlie headed off to the bathroom to go and get changed still laughing.
“Have Fred and Ginger found somewhere to practise their dancing yet?” asked Athene.
“We don’t need to find somewhere,” said Julie.
“We just dance everywhere,” said Mark as he did a perfect pirouette.
“Show off!” coughed Harry.
“See you two have found the library though,” said Harry looking at the stack of books on Athene’s table.
“You got a problem with that Harry?” asked Mark looking at Harry.
Mark had been more than used to sticking up for his brother at their primary school. Mark and Anthony might be very different people, but twins have a bond that can never be broken.
“On the contrary,” said Harry, “I wish I read more.”
“Leave off!” called Charlie as she came back in, “I’d much rather live life rather than read all the time.”
At that moment the bell went off, lights out were in fifteen minutes.
“Oh bugger!” muttered Harry.
“Do you mind if I borrow a couple of these?” asked Anthony indicating the books still on the desk.
“Feel free,” shrugged Athene as she kept reading, she was already in her pyjamas.
Lucy and Elizabeth came back to the dorm to get ready for bed.
“See you in the morrow fair ladies,” said Mark bowing slightly as he left the room backwards.
“Goodnight Mark,” said Julie as she shut the door after him.
“You’ll get used to Mark and his strange ways,” said Julie as she pulled on her nightgown.
Athene hoped that Julie was right and that she would get used to Mark and his over the top manner. She had already learned one thing, St Christopher’s was hardly a normal bob standard boarding school, and one thing was clear, it was going to be a very interesting seven years!