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New Boy

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Billy's papa puts him on the train to the Hall at 4:30 in the morning; it isn't even light out yet. He's just tall enough to put his suitcase in the overhead rack himself, so he insists on doing so rather than letting his papa help him. Almost immediately after the train starts moving he falls asleep in the compartment, and he wakes four hours later with his stomach growling in a very undignified manner. Luckily, he has his mama's full-packed hamper, and the sandwiches, though squished, are delicious. The man and woman who have joined him in the compartment look up at the rustle of the paper, then go back to their newspaper and knitting, respectively.

After eating, Billy watches the world go by. Canada is lush this time of year, and he pictures himself in the landscape as he passes it, climbing trees to leave secret messages in hidden hollows, seeing who can swing the highest from a sturdy branch, playing rugby in the fields and getting gloriously muddy just for the joy of it. Yes, he'll study at the Hall, study hard to make his family proud. But he wants to enjoy himself, too, and there's a small place inside of him that's afraid he won't make any friends.

When they arrive at the station, Coach Moore is waiting to take them the last few miles. Billy has to stand on tiptoe to pull out his suitcase from the rack and it takes some doing, so he's the last of the boys to appear and be checked off the coach's list for pick up. Some of the others are older boys, back for their second or third year, jostling each other jovially and trading stories about their summer activities. It's definitely intimidating. But there are three other first year boys, too, and all of them looking smaller and more uncertain than Billy, so he strides right up to one and introduces himself. The boys are Robert ("always Robert, if you please") and Georgy and Sam, and by the time Billy is through describing his secret code for messages they're all expressing admiration at his cleverness. The worry spot in his stomach fades just slightly.

His first view of the Hall is when they come over the rise. It's glorious – white stone buildings and well-maintained sports fields, backed by a large woods with plenty of trees that are ideal for climbing. It looks like more than just a place, and Billy thinks of his papa's admonition that he'll soon be more than just a boy – he'll be a MacDonald Hall boy. The sunlight glints bright on the roofs of the dormitories, and Billy decides it's a fine thing to be.

Once they arrive, Billy is separated from his new friends as they get their room assignments, but they agree to meet at supper later that evening. He takes his suitcase to room 231 and starts arranging his clothes in the drawers, almost as neatly as his mother could have wished. He sets out his prized spyglass on the top of the dresser. Just as he finishes, the door pops open and a whirlwind appears.

"Hullo – looks like we're to be roommates – I hope you won't mind a little mess – clean's never been in me, mother says – by the way, I overheard some of the older boys saying they were planning to sneak out tonight – d'you think we should tag along?" says the boy, all without really pausing to breathe. "By the way, I'm Steven Richardson but everyone calls me Danger – well, actually, they call me Patches, but I think Danger's a better nickname." He holds out a hand and Billy takes it, shaking firmly the way his papa had taught him.

"I'm Billy, Billy Sturgeon," he says. Then he adds, almost reluctantly, "But most people call me Fish."

It's a stupid nickname, and one he hates, but better to give it himself than have it given to him all over again. But all the other boy says is "brilliant," and Billy feels something he can't name well up inside him.

"So, Danger," Billy says. "Tonight – when do we leave?"