Headmaster Butler, only in his second year as administrator at Harrow, stared at the young man seated on the other side of the desk. Sebastian Tremaine stared back without flinching, his face entirely devoid of expression. The two remained that way for a full ten minutes before Butler shook his head with an inward chuckle and gave in. As a trusted friend of the Duke of Blackthorne who could be counted upon to keep the information to himself, he was one of the select few people in all of England who had knowledge of Sebastian’s ancestry. It was part of the reason he found the current situation so amusing. The boy might not be aware of his lineage, but he certainly possessed, in abundance, both the arrogance and bearing one would expect from the heir to a dukedom.
Sebastian waited for the well-respected man to speak. The classroom altercation which had landed him here was, to his mind, trite and unworthy of this sort of attention. As such, he had no intention of defending himself. He would simply accept whatever punishment the headmaster deemed appropriate and move on from there.
Finally, Headmaster Butler spoke. “While I appreciate and admire your meticulous attention to detail, Mr. Tremaine, I would ask that, in future, you consider erring on the side of tact, and that you refrain from correcting the instructor in front of the entire class.”
Sebastian simply nodded. At thirteen, he was already taller than most of the boys in his year and many of the older boys as well. He kept to himself, mostly. His class work was exemplary and, with today as the only exception, he stayed out of trouble.
When it became evident that Sebastian still did not intend to speak, Butler asked another question. “Are you happy here?” The headmaster was genuinely curious. In appearance, Sebastian’s resemblance to his grandfather was astonishing, but that was where any inherited traits ended. The current Duke of Blackthorne was affable and charming, given to acting upon impulse at times, and could even be described as somewhat irresponsible. His grandson, by contrast, was one of the most staid, serious young men the headmaster had ever encountered. In the short time he had been at Harrow, Butler couldn’t recall seeing Sebastian ever even crack a smile.
“My happiness is immaterial, Headmaster,” he replied, and the older man was certain he’d only deigned to speak because he was too polite to ignore a direct question. “I am here to obtain an education.”
The headmaster hid another smile at the young man’s no-nonsense tone. “Indeed.” He gave Sebastian another long look. “I trust, then, that there will be no further incidents?”
Sebastian raised his brows. “None by my own hand, Headmaster.”
“Off with you then. You may join your classmates in the yard.”
Sebastian stood up, gathered his books from the corner of the headmaster’s desk and left without another word, not even a thank you for being spared any sort of punishment. Butler watched him go, then stood and walked over to the window to wait for the young man to appear outside. When he did, the boys in the yard took notice, some of them even pointing in Sebastian’s direction and nudging their friends. Nobody approached him to see if he would like to join them in an impromptu game of cricket, or for conversation in the shade of one of the large trees. The lack of courtesy didn’t seem to bother Sebastian. He seated himself on an unoccupied bench, opened one of his books and began reading straight away. Butler watched another moment, and then turned away, his brow furrowed as he continued to consider the odd encounter. By doing so, he missed seeing the moment Sebastian Tremaine met the young man who would become his lifelong best friend.
“Not one for cricket, I take it?”
Sebastian looked up from his book to see one of the older students, also newly arrived to Harrow, standing over him. “You’re the Earl of Huntwick,” he said. The statement held a note of accusation.
The newcomer flashed a grin and nodded. “I am.”
Trevor Caldwell’s arrival at Harrow had prompted a flurry of speculation and activity. Barely sixteen, he’d recently lost both parents to an accident at sea, making him the youngest Earl of Huntwick in the history of the title. Sebastian had heard the news, of course, but considered such a private matter gossip of the vilest sort and so paid it little attention. Now he waited to see what the young nobleman wanted. The two stared at one another for an awkward moment before Trevor finally laughed. “You’re an odd sort, Tremaine.”
Sebastian looked around the yard. He was the only person seated and studying. “Yes. Well. My mother didn’t struggle and save for me to come to Harrow to play cricket.” He uttered the last word with deep derision.
Trevor’s smile faded, replaced by a sober expression. “No. I rather imagine she did not. And, from what I understand, you’re doing her proud.” Although in a different year, gossip flew on winged feet through the halls and classrooms of the ancient school, and he’d already heard about the incident with Sebastian’s instructor from the other boys. He rather admired Sebastian for it. It couldn’t be easy for him to exist as an unaccepted outsider among the privileged sons of the hauteton. It would have been far easier for him to have kept his mouth shut so as not to draw attention to himself.
The two said little else, but from that day on, they were fast friends, despite their differences in age and circumstance. On school holidays, when Trevor did not wish to travel to his country estate, he stayed in London with Carolyn and Sebastian at their small home. On longer holidays, Sebastian and his mother often accompanied him to The Willows, the earl’s estate a few hours north of London.
The friendship made Sebastian’s time at Harrow far easier than it might otherwise have been. Trevor’s infectious good humor rendered the young earl instantly popular with both the students and the faculty. Some of that popularity naturally spilled over onto Sebastian. As a result, he was no longer ostracized by the other boys, though neither could it be said that he was actively accepted. The instructors stopped being intimidated by the fact that his intellect easily outstripped theirs and simply accepted that Sebastian processed information in ways different from the other boys. They began advancing him at a rate consistent with his academic performance and, by the time Trevor had completed his courses at the age of eighteen, fifteen year-old Sebastian was also ready to leave Harrow.