Read CHAPTER I - ALL RIGHT! OFF WE GO! of Frank Fairlegh Scenes From The Life Of A Private Pupil , free online book, by Frank E Smedley, on

“Yet here... you are stayed for ... There; my blessing with you, And these few precepts in thy memory See thou character”

“Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits.
I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad,
Than living dully, sluggardis’d at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness.”

“Where unbruised youth, with unstuff’d brain,
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign.”

Never forget, under any circumstances, to think and act like a gentleman, and don’t exceed your allowance,” said my father.

“Mind you read your Bible, and remember what I told you about wearing flannel waistcoats,” cried my mother.

And with their united “God bless you, my boy!” still ringing in my ears, I found myself inside the stage-coach, on my way to London.

Now, I am well aware that the correct thing for a boy in my situation (i.e. leaving home for the first time) would be to fall back on his seat, and into a reverie, during which, utterly lost to all external impressions, he should entertain the thoughts and feelings of a well-informed man of thirty; the same thoughts and feelings being clothed in 2~the semi-poetic prose of a fashionable novel-writer. Deeply grieved, therefore, am I at being forced both to set at nought so laudable an established precedent, and to expose my own degeneracy. But the truth must be told at all hazards. The only feeling I experienced, beyond a vague sense of loneliness and desolation, was one of great personal discomfort. It rained hard, so that a small stream of water, which descended from the roof of the coach as I entered it, had insinuated itself between one of the flannel waistcoats, which formed so important an item in the maternal valediction, and my skin, whence, endeavouring to carry out what a logician would call the “law of its being,” by finding its own level, it placed me in the undesirable position of an involuntary disciple of the cold-water cure taking a “sitz-bad”. As to my thoughts, the reader shall have the full benefit of them, in the exact order in which they flitted through my brain.

First came a vague desire to render my position more comfortable, ending in a forlorn hope that intense and continued sitting might, by some undefined process of evaporation, cure the evil. This suggested a speculation, half pleasing and half painful, as to what would be my mother’s feelings could she be aware of the state of things; the pleasure being the result of that mysterious preternatural delight which a boy always takes in everything at all likely to injure his health, or endanger his existence, and the pain arising from the knowledge that there was now no one near me to care whether I was comfortable or not. Again, these speculations merged into a sort of dreamy wonder, as to why a queer little old gentleman opposite (my sole fellow-traveller) was grunting like a pig, at intervals of about a minute, though he was wide awake the whole time; and whether a small tuft of hair, on a mole at the tip of his nose, could have anything to do with it. At this point my meditations were interrupted by the old gentleman himself, who, after a louder grunt than usual, gave vent to his feelings in the following speech, which was partly addressed to me and partly a soliloquy.

“Umph! going to school, my boy, eh?” then, in a lower tone, “Wonder why I called him my boy, when he’s no such thing: just like me, umph!”

I replied by informing him that I was not exactly going to school-(I was nearly fifteen, and the word “school” sounded derogatory to my dignity)-but that, having been up to the present time educated at home by my father, I was now on my way to complete my studies under the care of a private tutor, who only received six pupils, a very different thing from a school, as I took the liberty of insinuating.

“Umph! different thing? You will cost more, learn less, and fancy yourself a man when you are a boy; that’s the only difference I can see:” then came the aside-“Snubbing the poor child, when he’s a peg too low already, just like me; umph!”

After which he relapsed into a silence which continued uninterrupted until we reached London, save once, while we were changing horses, when he produced a flask with a silver top, and, taking a sip himself, asked me if I drank brandy.  On my shaking my head, with a smile caused by what appeared to me the utter wildness and desperation of the notion, he muttered:-

“Umph! of course he doesn’t; how should he?-just like me”.

In due course of time we reached the Old Bell Inn, Holborn, where the coach stopped, and where my trunk and myself were to be handed over to the tender mercies of the coachman of the Rocket, a fast coach (I speak of the slow old days when railroads were unknown) which then ran to Helmstone, the watering-place where my future tutor, the Rev. Dr. Mildman, resided. My first impressions of London are scarcely worth recording, for the simple reason that they consisted solely of intense and unmitigated surprise at everything and everybody I saw and heard; which may be more readily believed when I add the fact that my preconceived notions of the metropolis had led me to imagine it perhaps might be twice the size of the town nearest to my father’s house; in short, almost as large as Grosvenor Square.

Here, then, I parted company with my fellow-traveller, who took leave of me thus:-

“Umph! well, good-bye; be a good boy-good man, you’d like me to say, I suppose; man, indeed! umph! don’t forget what your parents told you”; then adding, “Of course he will, what’s the use of telling him not? just like me";-he dived into the recesses of a hackney-coach, and disappeared.

Nothing worthy of note occurred during my journey to Helmstone, where we arrived at about half-past four in the afternoon. My feelings of surprise and admiration were destined once more to be excited on this (to me) memorable day, as, in my way from the coach-office to Langdale Terrace, where Dr. Mildman resided, I beheld, for the first time, that most stupendous work of God, the mighty Ocean; which, alike in its wild resistless freedom, and its 4~miraculous obedience to the command, “Thus far shalt thou come, and no further,” bears at once the plainest print of its Almighty Creator’s hand, while it affords a strong and convincing proof of His omnipotence.

On knocking at the door of Dr. Mildman’s house (if the truth must be told, it was with a trembling hand I did so) it was opened by a man-servant, whose singularly plain features were characterised by an expression alternating between extreme civility and an intense appreciation of the ludicrous.

On mentioning my name, and asking if Dr. Mildman was at home, he replied:-

“Yes, sir, master’s in, sir; so you’re Mr. Fairlegh, sir, our new young gent, sir?” (here the ludicrous expression predominated); “hope you’ll be comfortable, sir” (here he nearly burst into a laugh); “show you into master’s study, sir, directly” (here he became preternaturally grave again); and, opening the study door, ushered me into the presence of the dreaded tutor.

On my entrance Dr. Mildman (for such I presumed a middle-aged gentleman, the sole tenant of the apartment, to be) rose from a library table, at which he had been seated, and, shaking me kindly by the hand, inquired after the health of my father and mother, what sort of journey I had had, and sundry other particulars of the like nature, evidently with the good-humoured design of putting me a little more at my ease, as I have no doubt the trepidation I was well aware of feeling inwardly, at finding myself tete-a-tete with a real live tutor, was written in very legible characters on my countenance. Dr. Mildman, whose appearance I studied with an anxious eye, was a gentlemanly-looking man of five-and-forty, or thereabouts, with a high bald forehead, and good features, the prevailing expression of which, naturally mild and benevolent, was at times chequered by that look which all schoolmasters sooner or later acquire-a look which seems to say, “Now, sir, do you intend to mind me or do you not?” Had it not been for this, and for an appearance of irresolution about the mouth, he would have been a decidedly fine-looking man. While I was making these observations he informed me that I had arrived just in time for dinner, and that the servant should show me to my sleeping apartment, whence, when I had sacrificed to the Graces (as he was pleased to call dressing), I was to descend to the drawing-room, and be introduced to Mrs. Mildman and my future companions.

My sleeping-room, which was rather a small garret than otherwise, was furnished, as it appeared to me, with more 5~regard to economy than to the comfort of its inmate. At one end stood a small four-post bedstead, which, owing to some mysterious cause, chose to hold its near fore-leg up in the air, and slightly advanced, thereby impressing the beholder with the idea that it was about to trot into the middle of the room. On an unpainted deal table stood a looking-glass, which, from a habit it had of altering and embellishing the face of any one who consulted it, must evidently have possessed a strong natural taste for the ludicrous: an ancient washing-stand, supporting a basin and towel, and a dissipated-looking chair completed the catalogue.

And here, while preparing for the alarming ordeal I was so soon to undergo, let me present to the reader a slight sketch of myself, mental and bodily; and, as mind ought to take precedence of matter, I will attempt, as far as I am able after the lapse of time, to paint my character in true colours, “nought extenuating, nor setting down aught in malice”. I was, then, as the phrase goes, “a very well-behaved young gentleman”; that is, I had a great respect for all properly constituted authorities, and an extreme regard for the proprieties of life; was very particular about my shoes being clean, and my hat nicely brushed; always said “Thank you” when a servant handed me a plate, and “May I trouble you?” when I asked for a bit of bread. In short, I bade fair in time to become a thorough old bachelor; one of those unhappy mortals whose lives are alike a burthen to themselves and others-men who, by magnifying the minor household miseries into events of importance, are uneasy and suspicious about the things from the wash having been properly aired, and become low and anxious as the dreadful time approaches when clean sheets are inevitable! My ideas of a private tutor, derived chiefly from Sandford and Merton, and Evenings at Home, were rather wide of the mark, leading me to expect that Dr. Mildman would impart instruction to us during long rambles over green fields, and in the form of moral allegories, to which we should listen with respectful attention and affectionate esteem. With regard to my outward man, or rather boy, I should have been obliged to confine myself to such particulars as I could remember, namely, that I was tall for my age, but slightly built, and so thin, as often to provoke the application of such epithets as “hop-pole,” “thread-paper,” etc., had it not been that, in turning over some papers a few days since, I stumbled on a water-colour sketch of myself, which I well remember being taken by a young artist in the neighbourhood, just 6~before I left home, in the hope of consoling my mother for my departure. It represented a lad about fifteen, in a picturesque attitude, feeding a pony out of a very elegant little basket, with what appeared to be white currants, though I have every reason to believe they were meant for oats. The aforesaid youth rejoiced in an open shirt-collar and black ribbon a la Byron, curling hair of a dark chestnut colour, regular features, a high forehead, complexion like a girl’s, very pink and white, and a pair of large blue eyes, engaged in regarding the white currant oats with intense surprise, as well indeed they might. Whether this young gentleman bore more resemblance to me than the currants did to oats, I am, of course, unable to judge; but, as the portrait represented a very handsome boy, I hope none of my readers will be rude enough to doubt that it was a striking likeness.

I now proceeded to render myself thoroughly wretched, by attempting to extricate the articles necessary for a change of dress from the very bottom of my trunk, where, according to the nature of such things, they had hidden themselves; grammars, lexicons, and other like “Amenities of Literature,” being the things that came to hand most readily. Scarcely had I contrived to discover a wearable suit when I was informed that dinner was on the table; so, hastily tumbling into my clothes, and giving a final peep at the facetious looking-glass, the result of which was to twist the bow of my Byron tie under my left ear, in the belief that I was thereby putting it straight, I rushed downstairs, just in time to see the back of the hindmost pupil disappear through the dining-room door.

“Better late than never, Fairlegh. Mrs. Mildman, this is Fairlegh; he can sit by you, Coleman;-’For what we are going to receive,’ etc.;-Thomas, the carving-knife.”

Such was the address with which my tutor greeted my entrance, and, during its progress, I popped into a seat indicated by a sort of half wink from Thomas, resisting by a powerful act of self-control a sudden impulse which seized me to bolt out of the room, and do something rash but indefinite, between going to sea and taking prussic acid; not quite either, but partaking of the nature of both. “Take soup, Fairlegh?” said Dr. Mildman. “Thank you, sir, if you please.”

“A pleasant journey, had you?” inquired Mrs. Mildman.

“Not any, I am much obliged to you,” I replied, thinking of the fish.

This produced a total silence, during which the pupils 7~exchanged glances, and Thomas concealed an illicit smile behind the bread-basket.

“Does your father,” began Dr. Mildman in a very grave and deliberate manner, “does your father shoot?-boiled mutton, my dear?”

I replied that he had given it up of late years, as the fatigue was too much for him.

“Oh! I was very fond of carrying a gun-pepper-when I was-a spoon-at Oxford; I could hit a-mashed potato-bird as well as most men; yes, I was very sorry to give up my double-barrel-ale, Thomas.”

“You came inside, I believe?” questioned Mrs. Mildman, a lady possessing a shadowy outline, indistinct features faintly characterised by an indefinite expression, long ringlets of an almost impossible shade of whity-brown, and a complexion and general appearance only to be described by the term “washed out”.

“Yes, all the way, ma’am.”

“Did you not dislike it very much? it creases one’s gown so, unless it is a merino or mousseline-de-laine; but one can’t always wear them, you know.”

Not being in the least prepared with a suitable answer, I merely made what I intended to be an affirmative ahem, in doing which a crumb of bread chose to go the wrong way, producing a violent fit of coughing, in the agonies of which I seized and drank off Dr. Mildman’s tumbler of ale, mistaking it for my own small beer. The effect of this, my crowning gaucherie, was to call forth a languid smile on the countenance of the senior pupil, a tall young man, with dark hair, and a rather forbidding expression of face, which struggled only too successfully with an attempt to look exceedingly amiable; which smile was repeated with variations by all the others.

“I’m afraid you do not distinctly perceive the difference between those important pronouns, meum and tuum, Fairlegh? Thomas, a clean glass!” said Dr. Mildman, with a forced attempt at drollery; but Thomas had evaporated suddenly, leaving no clue to his whereabouts, unless sundry faint sounds of suppressed laughter outside the door, indicating, as I fancied, his extreme appreciation of my unfortunate mistake, proceeded from him.

It is, I believe, a generally received axiom that all mortal affairs must sooner or later come to an end; at all events, the dinner I have been describing did not form an exception to the rule. In due time Mrs. Mildman disappeared, after which Dr. Mildman addressed a remark or two about Greek tragedy to the tall pupil, which led to a 8~dissertation on the merits of a gentleman named Prometheus, who, it seemed, was bound in some peculiar way, but whether this referred to his apprenticeship to any trade, or to the cover of the book containing his history, did not appear. This conversation lasted about ten minutes, at the expiration of which the senior pupil “grinned horribly a ghastly smile” at the others, who instantly rose, and conveyed themselves out of the room with such rapidity that I, being quite unprepared for such a proceeding, sat for a moment in silent amazement, and then, becoming suddenly alive to a sense of my situation, rushed frantically after them. My speed was checked somewhat abruptly by a door at the end of the passage being violently slammed in my face, for which polite attention I was indebted to the philanthropy of the hindmost pupil, who thereby imposed upon me the agreeable task of feeling in the dark for a door-handle in an unknown locality. After fumbling for some time, in a state of the greatest bewilderment I at length opened the door, and beheld the interior of the “pupils’ room,” which, for the benefit of such of my readers as may never have seen the like, I will now endeavour shortly to describe.

The parlour devoted to the pupils’ use was of a good size, nearly square, and, like the cabin of a certain “ould Irish gentleman,” appeared to be fitted up with “nothing at all for show”. In three of the corners stood small tables covered with books and writing materials for the use of Dr. Mildman and the two senior pupils; in the fourth was a book-case. The centre of the room was occupied by a large square table, the common property of the other pupils; while a carpet, “a little the worse for wear,” and sundry veteran chairs, rather crazy from the treatment to which many generations of pupils had subjected them (a chair being the favourite projectile in the event of a shindy), completed the catalogue. Mr. Richard Cumberland, the senior pupil, was lounging in an easy attitude on one side of the fireplace; on the other stood, bolt upright, a lad rather older than myself, with a long unmeaning face, and a set of arms and legs which appeared not to belong to one another. This worthy, as I soon learned, responded to the name of Nathaniel Mullins, and usually served as the butt of the party in the absence of newer or worthier game. Exactly in front of the fire, with his coat-tails under his arms, and his legs extended like a pair of compasses, was stationed Mr. George Lawless, who, having been expelled from one of the upper forms at Eton for some heroic exploit which the head master could not be persuaded to 9~view in its proper light, was sent to vegetate for a year or two at Dr. Mildman’s ere he proceeded to one of the universities. This gentleman was of rather a short thick-set figure, with a large head, and an expression of countenance resembling that of a bull when the animal “means mischief,” and was supposed by his friends to be more “thoroughly wide awake” than any one of his years in the three kingdoms. The quartette was completed by Mr. Frederick Coleman, a small lad, with a round merry face, who was perched on the back of a chair, with his feet resting on the hob, and his person so disposed as effectually to screen every ray of fire from Nathaniel Mullins.

“You are not cold, Fairlegh? Don’t let me keep the fire from you,” said Lawless, without, however, showing the slightest intention of moving. “Not very, thank you.”

“Eh! quite right-glad to hear it. It’s Mildman’s wish that, during the first half, no pupil should come on the hearthrug. I made a point of conscience of it myself when I first came. The Spartans, you know, never allowed their little boys to do so, and even the Athenians, a much more luxurious people, always had their pinafores made of asbestos, or some such fireproof stuff. You are well read in Walker’s History of Greece, I hope?” I replied that I was afraid I was not. “Never read Hookeyus Magnus? Your father ought to be ashamed of himself for neglecting you so. You are aware, I suppose, that the Greeks had a different sort of fire from what we burn nowadays? You’ve heard of Greek fire?”

I answered that I had, but did not exactly understand what it meant.

“Not know that, either? disgraceful! Well, it was a kind of way they had of flaring up in those times a sort of ‘light of other days,’ which enabled them to give their friends a warm reception; so much so, indeed, that their friends found it too warm sometimes, and latterly they usually reserved it for their enemies. Mind you remember all this, for it is one of the first things old Sam will be sure to ask you.”

Did my ears deceive me? Could he have called the tutor, the dreaded tutor, “old Sam”? I trembled as I stood-plain, unhonoured “Sam,” as though he had spoken of a footman! The room turned round with me. Alas for Sandford and Merton, and affectionate and respectful esteem!

“But how’s this?” continued Lawless, “we have 10~forgotten to introduce you in form to your companions, and to enter your name in the books of the establishment; why, Cumberland, what were you thinking of?”

“Beg pardon,” rejoined Cumberland, “I really was so buried in thought, trying to solve that problem about bisecting the Siamese twins-you know it, Lawless? However, it is not too late, is it? Allow me to introduce you, Mr. Fairplay-”

“Legh, sir,” interrupted I.

“Ah, exactly; well, then, Mr. Fairlegh, let me introduce this gentleman, Mr. George Lawless, who has, if I mistake not, been already trying, with his usual benevolence, to supply a few of your deficiencies; he is, if he will allow me to say so, one of the most rising young men of his generation, one of the firmest props of the glorious edifice of our rights and privileges.”

“A regular brick,” interposed Coleman. “Hold your tongue, Freddy: little boys should be seen and not heard, as Tacitus tells us,” said Lawless, reprovingly.

The only reply to this, if reply it could be called, was something which sounded to me like a muttered reference to the Greek historian Walker, whom Lawless had so lately mentioned; and Cumberland continued:-

“You will pay great attention to everything Lawless tells you, and endeavour to improve by following his example, at a respectful distance-ahem! The gentleman on your right hand, Mr. Mullins, who is chiefly remarkable for looking [’like a fool,’ put in Coleman, sotto voce], before he leaps, so long, that in general he postpones leaping altogether, and is in the habit of making [’an ass of himself,’ suggested Coleman]-really, Freddy, I am surprised at you-of making two bites at a cherry-you will be better able to appreciate when you know more of him. As to my young friend Freddy here, his naturally good abilities and amiable temper [’Draw it mild, old fellow!’ interrupted the young gentleman in question] have interested us so much in his favour that we cannot but view with regret a habit he has of late fallen into, of turning everything into ridicule [’What a pity!’ from the same individual], together with a lamentable addiction to the use of slang terms. Let me hope his association with such a polished young gentleman as Mr. Fairlegh may improve him in these particulars.”

“Who drank Mildman’s ale at dinner?” asked Coleman; “if that’s a specimen of his polished manners, I think mine take the shine out of them, rather.” 11~"I assure you,” interrupted I, eagerly, “I never was more distressed in my life; it was quite a mistake.”

“Pretty good mistake-Hodgson’s pale ale for Muddytub’s swipes-eh, Mull?” rejoined Coleman.

“I believe you,” replied Mullins.

“Well, now for entering your name; that’s important, you know,” said Lawless; “you had better ring the bell, and tell Thomas to bring the books.”

I obeyed, and when Thomas made his appearance informed him of my desire to enter my name in the books of the establishment, which I begged he would bring for that purpose.  A look of bewilderment that came over his face on hearing my request changed to an expression of intelligence, as, after receiving some masonic sign from Lawless, he replied:-

“The books, sir; yes, sir; bring ’em directly, sir “.

After a few minutes he returned with two small, not overclean, books, ruled with blue lines. One of these Lawless took from him, opened with much ceremony, and, covering the upper part of the page with a bit of blotting paper, pointed to a line, and desired me to write my name and age, as well as the date of my arrival, upon it. The .same ceremony was repeated with the second.

“That’s all right: now let’s see how it reads,” said he, and, removing the blotting paper, read as follows: “’Pair of Wellingtons, L1 15s.; satin stock, 25s.; cap ribbon for Sally Duster, 2d.; box of cigars, L1 16s. (mem. shocking bad lot)-5th Nov., Francis Fairlegh, aged 15’.-So much for that; now, let’s see the next: ’Five shirts, four pair of stockings, six pocket-handkerchiefs, two pair of white ducks-5th Nov., Francis Fairlegh, aged 15’.”

Here his voice was drowned in a roar of laughter from the whole party assembled, Thomas included, during which the true state of the case dawned upon me, viz.-that I had, with much pomp and ceremony, entered my name, age, and the date of my arrival in Mr. George Lawless’s private account and washing books!

My thoughts, as I laid my aching head upon my pillow that night, were not of the most enviable nature. Leaving for the first time the home where I had lived from childhood, and in which I had met with affection and kindness from all around me, had been a trial under which my fortitude would most assuredly have given way, but for the brilliant picture my imagination had very obligingly sketched of the happy family of which I was about to become a member; in the foreground of which stood a group of fellow-pupils, a united brotherhood of congenial 12~souls,, containing three bosom friends at the very least, anxiously awaiting my arrival with outstretched arms of welcome. Now, however, this last hope had failed me; for, innocent (or, as Coleman would have termed it, green) as I then was, I could not but perceive that the tone of mock politeness assumed towards me by Cumberland and Lawless was merely a convenient cloak for impertinence, which could be thrown aside at any moment when a more open display of their powers of tormenting should seem advisable. In fact (though I was little aware of the pleasures in store for me), I had already seen enough to prove that the life of a private pupil was not exactly “all my fancy painted it”; and, as the misery of leaving those I loved proved in its “sad reality” a much more serious affair than I had imagined, the result of my cogitations was, that I was a very unhappy boy (I did not feel the smallest inclination to boast myself man at that moment), and that, if something very much to my advantage did not turn up in the course of the next twenty-four hours, my friends would have the melancholy satisfaction of depositing a broken heart (which, on the principle of the Kilkenny cats, was all I expected would remain of me by that time) in an early grave. Hereabouts my feelings becoming too many for me at the thought of my own funeral, I fairly gave up the struggle, and, bursting into a flood of tears, cried myself to sleep, like a child.