The Schoolboy’s Story [1853]

by Charles Dickens

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 profit.

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, too.

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.

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