+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


I DO not know by what process it came
about that my widowed mother obtained for
me a nomination to the Royal Military
Academy of Woolhurst. Ill health has since
caused me to forsake the path of military
glory, but I vividly remember Woolhurst as
it used to be when I, a Gentleman Cadet, was
told by my proud friends that "I was a very
lucky young fellow, with my path cut out
before me; that it was my own fault if I went
wrong again; and that the Duke of
Wellington had worked his way up as I might."
Some reforms have been forced upon the
Academy of Woolhurst since my day; but
the inner life of a great national establishment
is always slow to change, and while
I travel through my story of the past, I may
tread now and then upon a place or two in
which the gout still lingers.

I was about fifteen years old, when I
accompanied my mother to the great military
office in London (whence generals as well as
cadets derive their dignity) to pay a call of
gratitude to my exalted patron. I recollect
finding it impossible to take affectionately to
the tall white warrior in the splendid uniform,
who could not altogether drop his habit of
severe command even in giving well-meant
counsel to a boy in presence of his mother.

I was to join the Academy, prepared to
pass the entrance examination, in a month.
That interval I employed in rubbing up the
subjects upon which I should be questioned
French, German, printing, mathematics, and
a little Latinto the highest state of polish in
my power; and, at the end of the month, I was
so crammed with information that I was afraid
to talk or walk about lest I should spill any.
A night had to be passed in a hotel at Woolhurst
before the day of trial. In the hotel
were fellow candidates, but I avoided them;
keeping my body still and my mouth shut, as
became a boy who had a load upon his mind.

The knowledge swallowed in a rude heap
by one of the other young gentlemen, a Mr.
Pontoon, acted differently on his constitution;
in a way that, in fact, closely resembled a
severe fit of indigestion. He slept in the
next room to mine, and kept me awake all
night by broken jabbering. In the morning
I ascertained that he had been repeating
his memoria techinica, for about five hundred
dates of principal occurrences; whereof, I am
delighted to say, not one was subsequently
asked of him. Certainly some erring youths
employ more labour on those roundabout and
complicated roads to learning, than would
suffice to perform the journey two or three
times over by the beaten track. Why a horse
and a raven under a cucumber frame should
instantly direct attention to the fourth chapter
of St. John; or why a salmon leaping over a
wall should be the year of the Spanish
armada is rather unintelligible to me. And
yet I possess a Help to the Memory, (price six
shillings and sixpence) which asserts them
among much other distracting matter to be
clear analogies. The same youth, Mr. Pontoon,
was exceedingly near-sighted; and, in addition
to the doubt about his literary qualifications,
there was a source of dreadscarcely a doubt
at all, pretty certain he saidthat he could
not pass the medical ordeal. He would have
been "spun" certainly, had not the senior
Æsculapius been sick, and a too good-natured
assistant surgeon acted as his substitute. I
was a little blind; but had a specific from
my late schoolmaster, a shrewd Scotchman,
of this sort—"They'll be sure, lad, to
ask you the colour of the horses on the
common; if they are too far off, say grey.
All horses are grey or bay, and if you're
quick, you can just make a sound that will
do well for either of them."

While youth after youth was being
examined as to the objects visible upon
the horizon, poor Pontoon, whose time was
not yet come, took anxious note of their
responses. A waggon and horses having
been reported by the Cadet before him to
be going up the opposite hill, Pontoon,
after he had been tapped on the chest
and punched in the ribs, and finally asked
what he could see, promptly answered,
"A blue waggon, sir, with red wheels, and a
piebald horse, sir, and two black horses, and
the carter has got a short pipe in his mouth,
sir." "Well, sir," said the jolly doctor, "I
shan't ask you any more questions, because
all the things you mention have been over
the hill these five minutes; and, if you can see
through the hill, I'm sure there can't be much
the matter with your eyesight." So Pontoon
was passed.