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The Schoolboy's Story


Being rather young at present--I am getting on in years, but still I
am rather young--I have no particular adventures of my own to fall
back upon. It wouldn't much interest anybody here, I suppose, to
know what a screw the Reverend is, or what a griffin SHE is, or how
they do stick it into parents--particularly hair-cutting, and
medical attendance. One of our fellows was charged in his half's
account twelve and sixpence for two pills--tolerably profitable at
six and threepence a-piece, I should think--and he never took them
either, but put them up the sleeve of his jacket.

As to the beef, it's shameful. It's NOT beef. Regular beef isn't
veins. You can chew regular beef. Besides which, there's gravy to
regular beef, and you never see a drop to ours. Another of our
fellows went home ill, and heard the family doctor tell his father
that he couldn't account for his complaint unless it was the beer.
Of course it was the beer, and well it might be!

However, beef and Old Cheeseman are two different things. So is
beer. It was Old Cheeseman I meant to tell about; not the manner in
which our fellows get their constitutions destroyed for the sake of

Why, look at the pie-crust alone. There's no flakiness in it. It's
solid--like damp lead. Then our fellows get nightmares, and are
bolstered for calling out and waking other fellows. Who can wonder!

Old Cheeseman one night walked in his sleep, put his hat on over his
night-cap, got hold of a fishing-rod and a cricket-bat, and went
down into the parlour, where they naturally thought from his
appearance he was a Ghost. Why, he never would have done that if
his meals had been wholesome. When we all begin to walk in our
sleeps, I suppose they'll be sorry for it.

Old Cheeseman wasn't second Latin Master then; he was a fellow
himself. He was first brought there, very small, in a post-chaise,
by a woman who was always taking snuff and shaking him--and that was
the most he remembered about it. He never went home for the
holidays. His accounts (he never learnt any extras) were sent to a
Bank, and the Bank paid them; and he had a brown suit twice a-year,
and went into boots at twelve. They were always too big for him,

In the Midsummer holidays, some of our fellows who lived within
walking distance, used to come back and climb the trees outside the
playground wall, on purpose to look at Old Cheeseman reading there
by himself. He was always as mild as the tea--and THAT'S pretty
mild, I should hope!--so when they whistled to him, he looked up and
nodded; and when they said, "Halloa, Old Cheeseman, what have you
had for dinner?" he said, "Boiled mutton;" and when they said, "An't
it solitary, Old Cheeseman?" he said, "It is a little dull
sometimes:" and then they said, "Well good-bye, Old Cheeseman!" and
climbed down again. Of course it was imposing on Old Cheeseman to
give him nothing but boiled mutton through a whole Vacation, but
that was just like the system. When they didn't give him boiled
mutton, they gave him rice pudding, pretending it was a treat. And
saved the butcher.

So Old Cheeseman went on. The holidays brought him into other
trouble besides the loneliness; because when the fellows began to
come back, not wanting to, he was always glad to see them; which was
aggravating when they were not at all glad to see him, and so he got
his head knocked against walls, and that was the way his nose bled.
But he was a favourite in general. Once a subscription was raised
for him; and, to keep up his spirits, he was presented before the
holidays with two white mice, a rabbit, a pigeon, and a beautiful
puppy. Old Cheeseman cried about it--especially soon afterwards,
when they all ate one another.

Of course Old Cheeseman used to be called by the names of all sorts
of cheeses--Double Glo'sterman, Family Cheshireman, Dutchman, North
Wiltshireman, and all that. But he never minded it. And I don't
mean to say he was old in point of years--because he wasn't--only he
was called from the first, Old Cheeseman.

At last, Old Cheeseman was made second Latin Master. He was brought
in one morning at the beginning of a new half, and presented to the
school in that capacity as "Mr. Cheeseman." Then our fellows all
agreed that Old Cheeseman was a spy, and a deserter, who had gone
over to the enemy's camp, and sold himself for gold. It was no
excuse for him that he had sold himself for very little gold--two
pound ten a quarter and his washing, as was reported. It was
decided by a Parliament which sat about it, that Old Cheeseman's
mercenary motives could alone be taken into account, and that he had
"coined our blood for drachmas." The Parliament took the expression
out of the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius.

When it was settled in this strong way that Old Cheeseman was a
tremendous traitor, who had wormed himself into our fellows' secrets
on purpose to get himself into favour by giving up everything he
knew, all courageous fellows were invited to come forward and enrol
themselves in a Society for making a set against him. The President
of the Society was First boy, named Bob Tarter. His father was in
the West Indies, and he owned, himself, that his father was worth
Millions. He had great power among our fellows, and he wrote a
parody, beginning -

"Who made believe to be so meek
That we could hardly hear him speak,
Yet turned out an Informing Sneak?
Old Cheeseman."

- and on in that way through more than a dozen verses, which he used
to go and sing, every morning, close by the new master's desk. He
trained one of the low boys, too, a rosy-cheeked little Brass who
didn't care what he did, to go up to him with his Latin Grammar one
morning, and say it so: NOMINATIVUS PRONOMINUM--Old Cheeseman, RARO
EXPRIMITUR--was never suspected, NISI DISTINCTIONIS--of being an
informer, AUT EMPHASIS GRATIA--until he proved one. UT--for
instance, VOS DAMNASTIS--when he sold the boys. QUASI--as though,
DICAT--he should say, PRETAEREA NEMO--I'm a Judas! All this
produced a great effect on Old Cheeseman. He had never had much
hair; but what he had, began to get thinner and thinner every day.
He grew paler and more worn; and sometimes of an evening he was seen
sitting at his desk with a precious long snuff to his candle, and
his hands before his face, crying. But no member of the Society
could pity him, even if he felt inclined, because the President said
it was Old Cheeseman's conscience.

So Old Cheeseman went on, and didn't he lead a miserable life! Of
course the Reverend turned up his nose at him, and of course SHE
did--because both of them always do that at all the masters--but he
suffered from the fellows most, and he suffered from them
constantly. He never told about it, that the Society could find
out; but he got no credit for that, because the President said it
was Old Cheeseman's cowardice.

He had only one friend in the world, and that one was almost as
powerless as he was, for it was only Jane. Jane was a sort of
wardrobe woman to our fellows, and took care of the boxes. She had
come at first, I believe, as a kind of apprentice--some of our
fellows say from a Charity, but I don't know--and after her time was
out, had stopped at so much a year. So little a year, perhaps I
ought to say, for it is far more likely. However, she had put some
pounds in the Savings' Bank, and she was a very nice young woman.
She was not quite pretty; but she had a very frank, honest, bright
face, and all our fellows were fond of her. She was uncommonly neat
and cheerful, and uncommonly comfortable and kind. And if anything
was the matter with a fellow's mother, he always went and showed the
letter to Jane.

Jane was Old Cheeseman's friend. The more the Society went against
him, the more Jane stood by him. She used to give him a good-
humoured look out of her still-room window, sometimes, that seemed
to set him up for the day. She used to pass out of the orchard and
the kitchen garden (always kept locked, I believe you!) through the
playground, when she might have gone the other way, only to give a
turn of her head, as much as to say "Keep up your spirits!" to Old
Cheeseman. His slip of a room was so fresh and orderly that it was
well known who looked after it while he was at his desk; and when
our fellows saw a smoking hot dumpling on his plate at dinner, they
knew with indignation who had sent it up.

Under these circumstances, the Society resolved, after a quantity of
meeting and debating, that Jane should be requested to cut Old
Cheeseman dead; and that if she refused, she must be sent to
Coventry herself. So a deputation, headed by the President, was
appointed to wait on Jane, and inform her of the vote the Society
had been under the painful necessity of passing. She was very much
respected for all her good qualities, and there was a story about
her having once waylaid the Reverend in his own study, and got a
fellow off from severe punishment, of her own kind comfortable
heart. So the deputation didn't much like the job. However, they
went up, and the President told Jane all about it. Upon which Jane
turned very red, burst into tears, informed the President and the
deputation, in a way not at all like her usual way, that they were a
parcel of malicious young savages, and turned the whole respected
body out of the room. Consequently it was entered in the Society's
book (kept in astronomical cypher for fear of detection), that all
communication with Jane was interdicted: and the President
addressed the members on this convincing instance of Old Cheeseman's

But Jane was as true to Old Cheeseman as Old Cheeseman was false to
our fellows--in their opinion, at all events--and steadily continued
to be his only friend. It was a great exasperation to the Society,
because Jane was as much a loss to them as she was a gain to him;
and being more inveterate against him than ever, they treated him
worse than ever. At last, one morning, his desk stood empty, his
room was peeped into, and found to be vacant, and a whisper went
about among the pale faces of our fellows that Old Cheeseman, unable
to bear it any longer, had got up early and drowned himself.

The mysterious looks of the other masters after breakfast, and the
evident fact that old Cheeseman was not expected, confirmed the
Society in this opinion. Some began to discuss whether the
President was liable to hanging or only transportation for life, and
the President's face showed a great anxiety to know which. However,
he said that a jury of his country should find him game; and that in
his address he should put it to them to lay their hands upon their
hearts and say whether they as Britons approved of informers, and
how they thought they would like it themselves. Some of the Society
considered that he had better run away until he found a forest where
he might change clothes with a wood-cutter, and stain his face with
blackberries; but the majority believed that if he stood his ground,
his father--belonging as he did to the West Indies, and being worth
millions--could buy him off.

All our fellows' hearts beat fast when the Reverend came in, and
made a sort of a Roman, or a Field Marshal, of himself with the
ruler; as he always did before delivering an address. But their
fears were nothing to their astonishment when he came out with the
story that Old Cheeseman, "so long our respected friend and fellow-
pilgrim in the pleasant plains of knowledge," he called him--O yes!
I dare say! Much of that!--was the orphan child of a disinherited
young lady who had married against her father's wish, and whose
young husband had died, and who had died of sorrow herself, and
whose unfortunate baby (Old Cheeseman) had been brought up at the
cost of a grandfather who would never consent to see it, baby, boy,
or man: which grandfather was now dead, and serve him right--that's
my putting in--and which grandfather's large property, there being
no will, was now, and all of a sudden and for ever, Old Cheeseman's!
Our so long respected friend and fellow-pilgrim in the pleasant
plains of knowledge, the Reverend wound up a lot of bothering
quotations by saying, would "come among us once more" that day
fortnight, when he desired to take leave of us himself, in a more
particular manner. With these words, he stared severely round at
our fellows, and went solemnly out.

There was precious consternation among the members of the Society,
now. Lots of them wanted to resign, and lots more began to try to
make out that they had never belonged to it. However, the President
stuck up, and said that they must stand or fall together, and that
if a breach was made it should be over his body--which was meant to
encourage the Society: but it didn't. The President further said,
he would consider the position in which they stood, and would give
them his best opinion and advice in a few days. This was eagerly
looked for, as he knew a good deal of the world on account of his
father's being in the West Indies.

After days and days of hard thinking, and drawing armies all over
his slate, the President called our fellows together, and made the
matter clear. He said it was plain that when Old Cheeseman came on
the appointed day, his first revenge would be to impeach the
Society, and have it flogged all round. After witnessing with joy
the torture of his enemies, and gloating over the cries which agony
would extort from them, the probability was that he would invite the
Reverend, on pretence of conversation, into a private room--say the
parlour into which Parents were shown, where the two great globes
were which were never used--and would there reproach him with the
various frauds and oppressions he had endured at his hands. At the
close of his observations he would make a signal to a Prizefighter
concealed in the passage, who would then appear and pitch into the
Reverend, till he was left insensible. Old Cheeseman would then
make Jane a present of from five to ten pounds, and would leave the
establishment in fiendish triumph.

The President explained that against the parlour part, or the Jane
part, of these arrangements he had nothing to say; but, on the part
of the Society, he counselled deadly resistance. With this view he
recommended that all available desks should be filled with stones,
and that the first word of the complaint should be the signal to
every fellow to let fly at Old Cheeseman. The bold advice put the
Society in better spirits, and was unanimously taken. A post about
Old Cheeseman's size was put up in the playground, and all our
fellows practised at it till it was dinted all over.

When the day came, and Places were called, every fellow sat down in
a tremble. There had been much discussing and disputing as to how
Old Cheeseman would come; but it was the general opinion that he
would appear in a sort of triumphal car drawn by four horses, with
two livery servants in front, and the Prizefighter in disguise up
behind. So, all our fellows sat listening for the sound of wheels.
But no wheels were heard, for Old Cheeseman walked after all, and
came into the school without any preparation. Pretty much as he
used to be, only dressed in black.

"Gentlemen," said the Reverend, presenting him, "our so long
respected friend and fellow-pilgrim in the pleasant plains of
knowledge, is desirous to offer a word or two. Attention,
gentlemen, one and all!"

Every fellow stole his hand into his desk and looked at the
President. The President was all ready, and taking aim at old
Cheeseman with his eyes.

What did Old Cheeseman then, but walk up to his old desk, look round
him with a queer smile as if there was a tear in his eye, and begin
in a quavering, mild voice, "My dear companions and old friends!"

Every fellow's hand came out of his desk, and the President suddenly
began to cry.

"My dear companions and old friends," said Old Cheeseman, "you have
heard of my good fortune. I have passed so many years under this
roof--my entire life so far, I may say--that I hope you have been
glad to hear of it for my sake. I could never enjoy it without
exchanging congratulations with you. If we have ever misunderstood
one another at all, pray, my dear boys, let us forgive and forget.
I have a great tenderness for you, and I am sure you return it. I
want in the fulness of a grateful heart to shake hands with you
every one. I have come back to do it, if you please, my dear boys."

Since the President had begun to cry, several other fellows had
broken out here and there: but now, when Old Cheeseman began with
him as first boy, laid his left hand affectionately on his shoulder
and gave him his right; and when the President said "Indeed, I don't
deserve it, sir; upon my honour I don't;" there was sobbing and
crying all over the school. Every other fellow said he didn't
deserve it, much in the same way; but Old Cheeseman, not minding
that a bit, went cheerfully round to every boy, and wound up with
every master--finishing off the Reverend last.

Then a snivelling little chap in a corner, who was always under some
punishment or other, set up a shrill cry of "Success to Old
Cheeseman! Hooray!" The Reverend glared upon him, and said, "MR.
Cheeseman, sir." But, Old Cheeseman protesting that he liked his
old name a great deal better than his new one, all our fellows took
up the cry; and, for I don't know how many minutes, there was such a
thundering of feet and hands, and such a roaring of Old Cheeseman,
as never was heard.

After that, there was a spread in the dining-room of the most
magnificent kind. Fowls, tongues, preserves, fruits,
confectionaries, jellies, neguses, barley-sugar temples, trifles,
crackers--eat all you can and pocket what you like--all at Old
Cheeseman's expense. After that, speeches, whole holiday, double
and treble sets of all manners of things for all manners of games,
donkeys, pony-chaises and drive yourself, dinner for all the masters
at the Seven Bells (twenty pounds a-head our fellows estimated it
at), an annual holiday and feast fixed for that day every year, and
another on Old Cheeseman's birthday--Reverend bound down before the
fellows to allow it, so that he could never back out--all at Old
Cheeseman's expense.

And didn't our fellows go down in a body and cheer outside the Seven
Bells? O no!

But there's something else besides. Don't look at the next story-
teller, for there's more yet. Next day, it was resolved that the
Society should make it up with Jane, and then be dissolved. What do
you think of Jane being gone, though! "What? Gone for ever?" said
our fellows, with long faces. "Yes, to be sure," was all the answer
they could get. None of the people about the house would say
anything more. At length, the first boy took upon himself to ask
the Reverend whether our old friend Jane was really gone? The
Reverend (he has got a daughter at home--turn-up nose, and red)
replied severely, "Yes, sir, Miss Pitt is gone." The idea of
calling Jane, Miss Pitt! Some said she had been sent away in
disgrace for taking money from Old Cheeseman; others said she had
gone into Old Cheeseman's service at a rise of ten pounds a year.
All that our fellows knew, was, she was gone.

It was two or three months afterwards, when, one afternoon, an open
carriage stopped at the cricket field, just outside bounds, with a
lady and gentleman in it, who looked at the game a long time and
stood up to see it played. Nobody thought much about them, until
the same little snivelling chap came in, against all rules, from the
post where he was Scout, and said, "It's Jane!" Both Elevens forgot
the game directly, and ran crowding round the carriage. It WAS
Jane! In such a bonnet! And if you'll believe me, Jane was married
to Old Cheeseman.

It soon became quite a regular thing when our fellows were hard at
it in the playground, to see a carriage at the low part of the wall
where it joins the high part, and a lady and gentleman standing up
in it, looking over. The gentleman was always Old Cheeseman, and
the lady was always Jane.

The first time I ever saw them, I saw them in that way. There had
been a good many changes among our fellows then, and it had turned
out that Bob Tarter's father wasn't worth Millions! He wasn't worth
anything. Bob had gone for a soldier, and Old Cheeseman had
purchased his discharge. But that's not the carriage. The carriage
stopped, and all our fellows stopped as soon as it was seen.

"So you have never sent me to Coventry after all!" said the lady,
laughing, as our fellows swarmed up the wall to shake hands with
her. "Are you never going to do it?"

"Never! never! never!" on all sides.

I didn't understand what she meant then, but of course I do now. I
was very much pleased with her face though, and with her good way,
and I couldn't help looking at her--and at him too--with all our
fellows clustering so joyfully about them.

They soon took notice of me as a new boy, so I thought I might as
well swarm up the wall myself, and shake hands with them as the rest
did. I was quite as glad to see them as the rest were, and was
quite as familiar with them in a moment.

"Only a fortnight now," said Old Cheeseman, "to the holidays. Who
stops? Anybody?"

A good many fingers pointed at me, and a good many voices cried "He
does!" For it was the year when you were all away; and rather low I
was about it, I can tell you.

"Oh!" said Old Cheeseman. "But it's solitary here in the holiday
time. He had better come to us."

So I went to their delightful house, and was as happy as I could
possibly be. They understand how to conduct themselves towards
boys, THEY do. When they take a boy to the play, for instance, they
DO take him. They don't go in after it's begun, or come out before
it's over. They know how to bring a boy up, too. Look at their
own! Though he is very little as yet, what a capital boy he is!
Why, my next favourite to Mrs. Cheeseman and Old Cheeseman, is young

So, now I have told you all I know about Old Cheeseman. And it's
not much after all, I am afraid. Is it?

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