Philip Ware’s eyes grew heavy. He closed them and then forced the lids back open. They hadn’t come for him in five nights. He was so tired, though. Trying to stay awake. Hoping to be prepared when they struck.
Maybe they had tired of their bullying. At least of him. He knew of other boys they had tormented—but none as much as they did him.
Oh, how he had longed to go off to school. To meet new people and make friends. Instead, he had found himself more alone than he ever had at Dewfield. His father was practically a stranger to him. The duke had never gotten over his wife’s death in childbirth, along with a daughter who had been stillborn. Dewberry had retreated to one of his estates in the north, forgoing town during the Season and his ducal seat of Dewfield for all but one week of the year. He came home at Christmas and left by New Year’s.
Winston, Philip’s brother, only put in an appearance during that same week. He chose to go home with friends after his school terms ended and spent holidays across England with some of the finest families of the land. At ten years Philip’s senior, Winston had little to no interest in his younger brother. A tutor and the Dewfield housekeeper had been the ones who raised him. The tutor had been let go when Philip started school, which was now his greatest nightmare.
His eyes closed and he fell into a deep sleep, finally relaxing for the first time in days. That made it all the more terrifying when he was roused from that sleep, a hand firmly cupping his mouth to prevent him from crying out, as he was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night.
They tossed icy water from buckets at him, drenching him. Immediately, he began to shake uncontrollably. One of those buckets was slammed over his head. His hands were tied to something in front of him, causing him to lean over awkwardly. Then a solid blow landed against his backside. Philip gasped as laughter occurred.
“Hit him again,” someone urged.
Another blow struck. He didn’t know if they used a stick or cane but he pressed his lips together, determined not to cry out. His cries would only feed their anger. He didn’t understand what he had done to bring the group’s wrath upon him, other than he was a new boy and had no older brother at the school to protect him.
He was hit with such savage force that it lifted him off his feet. Still, he refused to utter a sound. He didn’t know if that was foolish or not. They might continue whipping him until he did cry out. Or if he made a noise, they might continue merely to amuse themselves.
“What the bloody hell?” a voice said.
Philip knew that voice. It belonged to Jonathan Sutton, the smartest and largest boy in the school. Sutton was the darling of their teachers and the best boy at sports, though a bit on the quiet side. His boisterous twin was athletic and charming, drawing boys to him and making them laugh.
If Jonathan Sutton joined in the fun, Philip might die from the strength of the boy’s arm. Tears poured down his cheeks. He slumped. No one cared about him. No one would miss him. He doubted his own father and brother would bother to attend his funeral.
“What’s it to you, Sutton?” Frawley, the leader of the bullies asked.
Even with the bucket over his head, Philip felt the power in that silence. He could sense Sutton staring down Frawley.
“He’s a baby,” Frawley burst out. “He cries in his bed at night. He needs to toughen up.”
“Did you ever think he cries because he’s far from home?” Sutton asked softly, an edge to his voice. “That he misses his family? He’s come to a place to learn and make friends. Yet all you bullies have done is terrorize him. Of course, he cries. He’s lonely. He’s friendless. No one will have anything to do with him because they don’t want to bring down your wrath upon them.”
The atmosphere in the room changed. Philip felt the shift, even as he bent forward, his buttocks still on fire.
“You will not touch him again—or any other boy, Frawley. If you do, I will be the one meting out the thrashing.” Sutton’s tone was low. Deadly. Ominous. “You do not run this school. My brother and I do. And I say your misdeeds stop here. Now. Else you will suffer the consequences.”
Philip sensed the other boys leaving. Saw them slinking away in his mind’s eye.
“You think you and that blasted twin of yours are golden,” Frawley spat out.
“We are,” Sutton agreed. “And you never will be. Leave, Frawley. Do not speak to this boy again. Do not terrorize another child. Is that understood?”
After a long moment, Philip heard a begrudging, “Yes.”
He heard Frawley stomp away and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Let’s start by getting this bucket off your head.”
When it lifted, he gasped for air. “Thank you.”
Sutton untied the bindings and gently pulled them from Philip’s wrists. He glanced down and saw how chafed his skin was. Slowly, he rose to his full height, looking up at Sutton.
His savior retrieved a candle sitting on the floor. “They won’t bother you again. If they do, come and tell Arch and me. We will protect you.”
“Why?” he asked, puzzled. “You are a duke’s son and brother to his heir. You have never spoken to me. I don’t understand.”
“Maybe not now. But you will sometime in the future. Come.”
Sutton led him to the school’s dispensary, the lone candle dimly lighting their way. He ushered Philip inside and set down the candle.
“Hop onto the examination table. No, wait. Let’s get that wet nightshirt off you first.”
For a moment, he froze. Though he shivered, he worried the older boy had saved him only to isolate and bugger him. Frawley had warned him that they would ram a rod up Philip’s ass and laugh as he bled.
Sutton placed a hand on Philip’s scrawny shoulder. “I won’t hurt you,” he said softly. “Whatever Frawley threatened you with—and I have a good idea what it was—no harm will come to you by me.”
Biting his lip, he nodded, allowing the older boy to take the hem of the nightshirt and pull it from Philip’s body. He placed it on a nearby chair.
“Climb up now. Lie face down. I want to tend to your wounds.”
He did as instructed, as Sutton scrounged until he found what he wanted.
“I’ve got a salve which will help.”
Tenderly, the older boy tended to Philip. He bit his lip to keep from making a sound.
“You’re very brave, Ware.”
“You know my name?”
Sutton chuckled. “I know the name of every boy in the school. It is important to know those around you. Another lesson to learn. There. That’s good. We’re done.”
He got off the table and Sutton handed him a large towel. “Use this. You catch a chill if you put that nightshirt back on.”
Claiming the candle again, Sutton led the towel-draped Philip back to his dormitory.
At the door, Sutton handed Philip his nightshirt and said, “I will keep my eye on you. Do your best in your studies. They are important. Now that Frawley and his crew will no longer bother you, hopefully you will make some friends. Are you a first son? Second? Third?”
“Second. My brother is ten years my senior. He will be Duke of Dewberry one day.”
“Then it will be the military for you,” Sutton said matter-of-factly. “Concentrate on mathematics, history, and geography then. You’re small now but you will grow. Try hard at sports and riding. You will need a good command of your horse. Do you ride?”
“Some,” he said, shamed that was his answer. “I’m not very good.”
“Find a groom who is patient and has a bit of time on his hands when you return during your school holidays. Have him teach you. Practice is important.”
“Thank you, Sutton,” he said again fervently. “For saving me. For standing up to Frawley.”
“Bullies are a necessary evil of public school life. When confronted, they usually back down. Go back to bed, Ware. Put on a clean nightshirt and drape yours so it will dry. Remember, let me know if anyone else gives you trouble. Arch and I will handle it.”
Philip nodded and returned to his bed. If any boy was awake, he dared not open his eyes.
By morning, his bottom was still raw and ached, but he had gotten a decent amount of sleep.
During the term, Sutton sought him out twice, asking how things were going. Both times, Philip replied all was well and that he was progressing in his studies. When the holidays arrived, he took the advice offered and spoke to Dewfield’s head groom about truly wanting to become the best rider he could. The old man taught Philip himself, with patience and care.
He did not speak to Sutton until the last day of the school year when the older boy approached him.
“Arch and I are leaving this school, Ware. We are off to a new one with older boys to continue our studies. Do you have things in hand here?”
Philip nodded, knowing the twins were bound for Eton in the fall. “I study hard. I ride quite well now. I have made a friend. We are loyal to one another.”
“Then good luck to you, Ware.”
“The same to you, Sutton,” he replied, watching the older boy as he walked away and joined his twin.
They might never see each other again—but Jonathan Sutton had made an indelible impression on Philip.
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