Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

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a little while without seeing anything, until at
last he came to a middle-aged gentleman. So
he said to the gentleman, " What are you doing
here ? " And his answer was, " I am always
busy. Come and be busy with me ! "

So he began to be very busy with that gen-
tleman, and they went on through the wood
together. The whole journey was through a
wood, only it had been open and green at first,
like a wood in spring ; and now began to be
thick and dark, like a wood in summer; some
of the little trees that had come out earliest,
were even turning brown. The gentleman was
not alone, but had a lady of about the same age
with him, who was his Wife ; and they had chil-
dren, who were with them too. So they all
went on together through the wood, cutting
down the trees, and making a path through the
branches and the fallen leaves, and carrying
burdens, and working hard.

Sometimes they came to a long green avenue
that opened into deeper woods. Then they
would hear a very little distant voice crying,
" Father, father, I am another child ! Stop for
me ! " And presently they would see a very
little figure, growing larger as it came along,
running to join them. When it came up, they
all crowded round it, and kissed and welcomed
it ; and then they all went on together.

Sometimes they came to several avenues at
once, and then they all stood still, and one of
the children said, " Father, I am going to sea,"
and another said, "Father, I am going to India,"
and another, " Father, I am going to seek my
fortune where I can," and another, " Father, I
am going to Heaven ! " So, with many tears at
parting, they went, solitary, down those avenues,
each child upon its way ; and the child who went
to Heaven, rose into the golden air and vanished.

Whenever these partings happened, the travel-
ler looked at the gentleman, and saw him glance
up at the sky above the trees, where the day was
beginning to decline, and the sunset to come
on. He saw, too, that his hair was turning grey.
But they never could rest long, for they had
their journey to perform, and it was necessary
for them to be always busy.

At last, there had been so many partings that
there were no children left, and only the travel-
ler, the gentleman, and the lady went upon their
way in company. And now the wood was
yellow ; and now brown ; and the leaves, even
of the forest trees, began to fall.
Edw^in Dkood, Etc., ii.



So they came to an avenue that was darker
than the rest, and were pressing forward on
their journey without looking down it when the
lady stopped.

" My husband," said the lady, " I am called."

They listened, and they heard a voice, a long
way down the avenue, say, " Mother, mother ! "

It was the voice of the first child who had
said, " I am going to Heaven ! " and the father
said, " I pray not yet. The sunset is very near,
I pray not yet ! "

But the voice cried, " Mother, mother ! "
without minding him, though his hair was now
quite white, and tears were on his face.

Then, the mother, who was already drawn
into the shade of the dark avenue, and moving
away with her arms still round his neck, kissed
him, and said, " My dearest, I am summoned
and I go ! " And she was gone. And the
traveller and he were left alone together.

And they Avent on and on together, until they
came to very near the end of the wood : so near,
that they could see the sunset shining red before
them through the trees.

Yet once more, while he broke his way among
the branches, the traveller lost his friend. He
called and called, but there \vas no reply, and
when he passed out of the wood, and saw the
peaceful sun going down upon a wide purple
prospect, he came to an old man sitting on a
fallen tree. So he said to the old man, " What
do you do here ? " And the old man said, with
a calm smile, " I am always remembering. Come
and remember with me ! "

So the traveller sat down by the side of that
old man, face to face with the serene sunset;
and all his friends came softly back and stood
around him. The beautiful child, the handsome
boy, the young man-in love, the father, mother,
and children ; every one of them was there, and
he had lost nothing. So he loved them all, and
was kind and forbearing with them all, and was
always pleased to watch them all, and they all
honoured and loved him. And I think the
traveller must be yourself, dear Grandfather,
because this is what you do to us, and what we
do to you.



THE SCHOOL-BOY'S STORY.

BEING rather young at present — I am get-
ting 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 whai



l62



THE SCHOOL-BOY'S STORY.



a screw the Reverend is, or what a griffin
she is, or how they do stick, it into parents — par-
ticularly 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 apiece,
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 constitu-
tions 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 bol-
stered for calling out and waking other fellows.
Who can wonder?

Old Cheeseman one night walked in his
sleep, put his hat on over his nightcap, 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 snufi" 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 fel-
lows who lived within walking distance used to
come back and climb the trees outside the play-
ground wall, on purpose to look at Old Cheese-
man 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 Cheese-
man !" 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 loneli-
ness ; 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 pre-
sented before the holidays with two white mice,
a rabbit, a pigeon, and a beautiful puppy. Old
Cheeseman cried about it — especially soon after-
wards, 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 Cheese-
man.

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. Cheese-
man." Then our fellows all agreed that Old
Cheeseman was a spy, and a deserter, who had
I gone over to the enemy's camp, and sold him-
self 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



OLD CHEESEMAN.



163



Millions. He had great power among our fel-
lows, and he wrote a parody beginning,

"Who made believe to be so meek
Tluit we could hardly hear him speak,
Yet turned out an lnformin



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 31 of 103)