The Schoolboy’s Story – 1853 – A Christmas tale
This appeared in the special Christmas edition of Household Words in 1853.
The young schoolboy is complaining about the school, about the Reverend. He believes they overcharge parents for haircuts and for medical attendance. For example, they charged twelve shillings and sixpence for two pills, that the boy did not even take, he hid them in his sleeve. He talks of the beef and its veins, of someone going home unwell because of it. He talks of the solid pastry without any flakiness.
He talks of Old Cheeseman walking in his sleep, given his clothes he was feared to be a ghost. But he was a fellow schoolboy then. He had been brought to the school as a small child, never went home for the holidays, his costs were paid by a Bank. He got a new brown suits twice a year and his boots were too big for him. He spent the holidays reading and eating boiled mutton.
He was called by the names of all sorts of cheeses – Double Glo’sterman, Family Cheshireman, Dutchman, North Wiltshireman, and all that.
He was appointed second Latin Master, and the schoolboys thought him a spy, that he had joined the other side. He was accused of betraying them for gold, but it was very little gold, just two pounds, ten and a quarter, and his washing.
They believed he had wormed his way into fellow’s secrets, he was a traitor. This affected Cheeseman, he began to lose his hair and grew pale. But they would not forgive him,
He was treated poorly by the Reverend and other staff members. His only friend was Jane, a sort of wardrobe woman, she had originally arrived as a sort of apprentice, rumoured perhaps that she had been a charity case. Not quite pretty she had saved some money, she was neat, cheerful and liked by the fellows.
Jane was Cheeseman’s friend, the more antagonism against him the greater her friendship. The fellows approached her to cut off Cheeseman or be sent to Coventry herself. She told the deputation that they were young savages and turned them out from the room. It was decided to cut her off. She however remained his friend,
One morning Cheeseman disappeared and the rumour was that he had drowned himself. The Reverend told them the story, He was the orphan child of a disinherited young lady who had married against her father’s wishes, she had sent him to the school. His grandfather would never consent to see it, baby, boy, or man. He had died and his large property, as there was no will, was now Cheeseman’s. The Reverend said that he would come back in a fortnight to make his farewells.
The Society that had shunned Cheeseman was suddenly in consternation, members wanted to resign. The President of the Society made some bold calims and it subsided.
When the day arrived, Cheeseman did not turn up in a triumphal car, but walked in, he looked much the same but was dressed in black. He was introduced by the Reverend and spoke of his good fortune, of previous misunderstandings, of forgiving and forgetting,that he wished to shake hands with each of them.
He started with the President who was crying and saying he did not deserve his good thoughts. One of the boys shouted ‘Success to Old Cheeseman! Hooray!’. The Reverend corrected him, ‘MR. Cheeseman, sir’. There was a thundering of feet and hands.
Cheeseman had laid on a feast at his expense. The Society decided that it would make things up with Jane and then be dissolved. But they found her gone, the Reverend announced she ‘is gone’ but would not elucidate.
Some months later, an open carriage stopped at the cricket field and watched the match. Some lad ran in and said it was Jane,. She had married Cheeseman.
This became a regular thing that the carriage arrived with Jane and Cheeseman. On one occasion he asked who was remaining for the holidays. The narrator is singled out as the one who will be there, and he was invited to go to the Cheeseman’s instead.
He is much taken with the Cheesemans and their home. They had a very young boy, he liked him too!
The narrator apologises for telling all he knew of Cheeseman, ‘It’s not much after all, I am afraid. Is it?’