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The Cherry-Stones; or, The Force of…

The Cherry-Stones; or, The Force of Conscience: A Tale of Charlton School (1851)

by William Adams, H.C. Adams

Other authors: John Absolon (Illustrator)

Series: Charlton School (1)

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Thirteen-year-old Harry Mertoun discovers that his transgressions cannot easily be put aside in this Victorian school-story for boys, as he is haunted, not just by his conscience, but by the stones of the seven ripe cherries he stole one night from Squire Ellison's orchard. A diligent scholar and an accomplished cricket player, Harry is popular with pupils and masters alike at Charlton School, and is in the running for the first prize in both classics and ciphering. But when his feat in retrieving a lost cricket ball from the squire's orchard - an area declared strictly off-limits by headmaster Dr. Young - leads the other boys to express their admiration, the attention goes to his head. Small sins soon lead to larger ones - the first two chapters of The Cherry-Stones are in fact entitled "The Slight Act of Disobedience" and "The Grave Act of Disobedience" - and when Harry is taunted by his schoolfellow Edward Sharpe, who claims that no schoolboy would be daring enough to help himself to some of the bounty of that forbidden orchard, his vanity and love of adventure lead him to sneak out late at night and steal a handful of the squire's cherries. Although immediately repentant, Harry cannot bring himself to confess his wrong to Dr. Young, as he does not want to lose his chance at the prizes - only awarded to boys in good moral standing - or to face the embarrassment his deed will bring him before his schoolfellows and family. But though he tries to think of the matter as over and done, he discovers it is not so simple, especially when cherry stones begin to appear in the most unlikely places, from his pocket to his shoe. Shaken by these mysterious reminders of his guilt, Harry is driven almost to distraction, but even bad dreams and a quarrel with his close friend Charles Warbeck aren't enough to convince him to come forward...

Originally published in 1851, some six years before the far more famous Tom Brown's School Days, this boys' school-story was begun by the Rev. William Adams, who (according to the preface) would relate parts of it to his young relatives at the Christmas holidays. Left unfinished when he died in 1848, the manuscript was taken up by Adams' brother, the Rev. H.C. (Henry Cadwallader) Adams, who completed it and prepared it for publication. H.C. Adams would go on to pen many more boys' school-stories, but The Cherry-Stones marks his first entry into the genre. This is an overtly didactic work of Christian fiction, as is so common with children's books in the Victorian period, and the narrator frequently inserts moral commentary into the story, explaining the motivations (and failings) of his main character in some detail. Harry is described, for instance, as being particularly vulnerable on the night of his "grave disobedience," because he fails to say his nightly prayers; and the book closes with a warning that one small step from the right path can lead in a direction that is altogether wrong. Despite the didacticism, there is some genuine appeal to the story, and it is fascinating (and sometimes amusing) to observe Harry's confusion and growing distress, as cherry-stones begin popping up in all kinds of unlikely places. I had my own suspicions as to how and why they were appearing (and it didn't involve anything supernatural!), but my guess that Dr. Young was aware of Harry's transgression, and was using the cherry-stones to teach him a lesson and to cause him to come forward on his own, proved to be incorrect. That too increased my enjoyment, as I like to be kept guessing. I don't know that this will have much appeal to the contemporary child reader, but to scholars interested in the history of the boys' school story (or in school stories in general), or in Victorian Christian didacticism, it might prove quite rewarding. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jan 27, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Adamsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adams, H.C.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Absolon, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
A young school-boy is haunted by the stones of the cherries he stole from a nearby orchard in this Victorian school-story.

Available online at The Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature:
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