From the journal of Micah Brickley Camlet, age 11 yrs.
DO NOT READ!
DEATH TO TRESPASSERS!
25 August 1861
My dearest son,
Just a note to inform you that Miss Marian has been safely delivered. You now have a younger half-brother! He is to be christened William Walter Halcombe Camlet. As you may imagine we are all most joyful here. Miss Marian is blooming and sends you her best love.
I hope your first week at boarding school goes well, and that you are learning your way about St. Botolph’s. I enclose a note from Lottie (in code! How clever of the two of you – I am utterly thwarted and baffled!) and a plum cake. Do not eat it all at once, I beg!
Believe me always,
I paste in this note which I have just received from my father Mr. Theophilus Camlet. I am now in the plainest and most mortal danger. Just like David Copperfield (I have finished his story just this day, having sat up all night reading) I have been supplanted by a son by my parent’s new wife! I daresay Papa will die any day. I had intended to share this cake out among my mates, but I dare not put Jervey, Culford and Porch into danger. It’s probably poisoned. At great sacrifice I ate it all myself, and am now desperately ill. In spite of this had to spend an hour cleaning Mulready Major’s boots. I expect to die shortly. When this is found among my effects, please give this journal to my sister, Miss Charlotte V. Camlet, at Sandett House in Hampstead, north of London. She surely shares my peril!
Things I hate about school # 14: Sharing a bed with Culford. I have had my own bed since I was born. He hogs all the covers, and smells bad.
Began Oliver Twist. Could it be that the cake was not poisoned after all? Mrs. B gave me a horrid dose of bitters, which she brews herself out of poisonous herbs and berries, eye of newt optional, when the moon is on the wane. I’m almost sorry to report it set me right up. Because I did not share, Culford and Jervey took me out behind the coal shed and pounded me. I now have a bloody nose and a black eye. Matron said boys will be boys. I showed her the tooth which is still loose from last week, but she says it’s a milk tooth and will fall out sometime anyway.
Here is the note from Lottie, which I have now decoded:
What? They let you read novels at boarding school? Of course I won’t rat to Papa! How has he led us to believe that children may not read fiction published after 1800? We are condemned to peruse Macaulay’s History of England! Tell me all about David Copperfield, instantly!
Thank goodness we agreed to communicate in our private code. It’s better for my sister to discover now, early in life, that the best of men may be deluded and that even my father (whose intelligence is otherwise very tolerable) may be blinded by affection and led astray.
Things I hate about school #15: There was a layer of grease on the tea today. Soap was not used when washing the crockery. Drank it anyway.
Mr. Holly, the mathematics master, says that if I do not apply myself he shall cane me. The daily flogging that Old Buggerhum administers to each of us in turn after supper is to set a high tone of moral and gentlemanlike feeling, and has no effect upon my learning square roots.
Mr. Byland, the history master, teaches us nothing. Today he read to us from the newspaper accounts of a civil war in the United States. It is a major conflagration, not to be missed. The instant I matriculate from this Hole I shall cross the sea and enlist in the Union Army. Fighting slave holders cannot be worse than St. Botolph’s. And a British public-school man will be a distinct asset, surely welcomed among the colonial ranks. Perhaps they will let me man a cannon! In the meantime I have finished Oliver Twist and begun reading Nicholas Nickleby.
Things I hate about school #16: Boys have but one change of linen a fortnight. We all are afflicted with fleas, which infest the mattresses so that they may never be eradicated.