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

parents, who were necessarily unacquainted with
the South Kensington Museum, still arise
before me. Truth is sacred, and the visions are
crowned by a shining white beaver bonnet,
impossibly suggestive of a little feminine postboy.
My memory presents a birthday when Olympia
and I were taken by an unfeeling relativesome
cruel uncle, or the liketo a slow torture called
an Orrery. The terrible instrument was set up
at the local Theatre, and I had expressed a
profane wish in the morning that it was a Play:
for which a serious aunt had probed my conscience
deep, and my pocket deeper, by reclaiming
a bestowed half-crown. It was a venerable
and a shabby Orrery, at least one thousand stars
and twenty-five comets behind the age.
Nevertheless, it was awful. When the low-spirited
gentleman with the wand said "Ladies and gentlemen"
(meaning particularly Olympia and me),
"the lights are about to be put out, but there
is not the slightest cause for alarm," it was very
alarming. Then the planets and stars began.
Sometimes they wouldn't come on, sometimes
they wouldn't go off, sometimes they had holes in
them, and mostly they didn't seem to be good
likenesses. All this time the gentleman with the
wand was going on in the dark (tapping away
at the Heavenly bodies between whiles, like a
wearisome woodpecker), about a sphere
revolving on its own axis eight hundred and ninety-
seven thousand millions of timesor milesin
two hundred and sixty-three thousand five
hundred and twenty-four millions of something elses,
until I thought if this was a birthday it were
better never to have been born. Olympia, also,
became much depressed, and we both slumbered
and woke cross, and still the gentleman was
going on in the darkwhether up in the stars,
or down on the stage, it would have been hard
to make out, if it had been worth trying
cyphering away about planes of orbits, to such
an infamous extent that Olympia, stung to
madness, actually kicked me. A pretty birthday
spectacle when the lights were turned up again,
and all the schools in the town (including the
National, who had come in for nothing, and
serve them right, for they were always throwing
stones) were discovered with exhausted
countenances, screwing their knuckles into their eyes,
or clutching their heads of hair. A pretty
birthday speech when Doctor Sleek of the
City-Free bobbed up his powdered head in the
stage-box, and said that before this assembly
dispersed he really must beg to express his
entire approval of a lecture as improving, as
informing, as devoid of anything that could call a
blush into the cheek of youth, as any it had ever
been his lot to hear delivered. A pretty birthday
altogether, when Astronomy couldn't leave
poor small Olympia Squires and me alone, but
must put an end to our loves! For, we never
got over it; the threadbare Orrery outwore our
mutual tenderness; the man with the wand was
too much for the boy with the bow.

When shall I disconnect the combined smells
of oranges, brown paper, and straw, from those
other birthdays at school, when the coming
hamper cast its shadow before, and when a week
of social harmonyshall I add of admiring and
affectionate popularityled up to that Institution?
What noble sentiments were expressed
to me in the days before the hamper, what vows
of friendship were sworn to me, what exceedingly
old knives were given me, what generous
avowals of having been in the wrong emanated
from else obstinate spirits once enrolled among
my enemies! The birthday of the potted game
and guava jelly, is still made special to me by
the noble conduct of Bully Globson. Letters
from home had mysteriously inquired whether I
should be much surprised and disappointed if
among the treasures in the coming hamper I
discovered potted game, and guava jelly from
the Western Indies. I had mentioned those
hints in confidence to a few friends, and had
promised to give away, as I now see reason to
believe, a handsome covey of partridges potted,
and about a hundred-weight of guava jelly. It
was now that Globson, Bully no more, sought
me out in the playground. He was a big
fat boy, with a big fat head and a big fat
fist, and at the beginning of that Half had
raised such a bump on my forehead that I
couldn't get my hat of state on, to go to church.
He said that after an interval of cool reflection
(four months) he now felt this blow to have
been an error of judgment, and that he wished
to apologise for the same. Not only that, but,
holding down his big head between his two big
hands in order that I might reach it conveniently,
he requested me, as an act of justice which would
appease his awakened conscience, to raise a
retributive bump upon it, in the presence of
witnesses. This handsome proposal I modestly
declined, and he then embraced me, and we walked
away conversing. We conversed respecting the
West India islands, and in the pursuit of
knowledge he asked me with much interest whether
in the course of my reading I had met with any
reliable description of the mode of manufacturing
guava jelly; or whether I had ever happened
to taste that conserve, which he had been given
to understand was of rare excellence.

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty; and
then with the waning months came an ever
augmenting sense of the dignity of twenty-one.
Heaven knows I had nothing to "come into,"
save the bare birthday, and yet I esteemed it as
a great possession. I now and then paved
the way to my state of dignity, by beginning a
proposition with the casual words, "say that a
man of twenty-one," or by the incidental
assumption of a fact that could not sanely be
disputed, as, "for when a fellow comes to be a
man of twenty-one." I gave a party on the
occasion. She was there. It is unnecessary to
name Her, more particularly; She was older than
I, and had pervaded every chink and crevice of
my mind for three or four years. I had held
volumes of Imaginary Conversations with her
mother on the subject of our union, and I had
written letters more in number than Horace
Walpole's, to that discreet woman, soliciting her
daughter's hand in marriage. I had never had