A Sneeze out of Season

I had occasion to smile—nay, to laugh—at madame again within the space of four-and-twenty hours after the little scene treated of in the last chapter.

Villette owns a climate as variable, though not so humid, as that of any English town. A night of high wind followed upon that soft sunset, and all the next day was one of dry storm—dark, beclouded, yet rainless; the streets were dim with sand and dust whirled from the boulevards. I know not that even lovely weather would have tempted me to spend the evening-time of study and recreation where I had spent it yesterday. My alley, and, indeed, all the walks and shrubs in the garden, had acquired a new but not a pleasant interest; their seclusion was now become precarious, their calm insecure. That casement which rained billets had vulgarized the once dear nook it overlooked; and elsewhere the eyes of the flowers had gained vision, and the knots in the tree-boles listened like secret ears. Some plants there were, indeed, trodden down by Dr. John in his search and his hasty and heedless progress, which I wished to prop up, water, and revive; some footmarks, too, he had left on the beds; but these, in spite of the strong wind, I found a moment’s leisure to efface very early in the morning, ere common eyes had discovered them. With a pensive sort of content I sat down to my desk and my German, while the pupils settled to their evening lessons, and the other teachers took up their needlework.

The scene of the étude du soir was always the refectory, a much smaller apartment than any of the three classes or schoolrooms; for here none, save the boarders, were ever admitted, and these numbered only a score. Two lamps hung from the ceiling over the two tables; these were lit at dusk, and their kindling was the signal for school-books being set aside, a grave demeanour assumed, general silence enforced, and then commenced la lecture pieuse. This said lecture pieuse was, I soon found, mainly designed as a wholesome mortification of the intellect, a useful humiliation of the reason, and such a dose for Common Sense as she might digest at her leisure, and thrive on as she best could.

The book brought out (it was never changed, but, when finished, recommenced) was a venerable volume, old as the hills, gray as the Hôtel de Ville.

I would have given two francs for the chance of getting that book once into my hands, turning over the sacred yellow leaves, ascertaining the title, and perusing with my own eyes the enormous figments which, as an unworthy heretic, it was only permitted me to drink in with my bewildered ears. This book contained legends of the saints. Good God! (I speak the words reverently), what legends they were! What gasconading rascals those saints must have been, if they first boasted these exploits or invented these miracles! These legends, however, were no more than monkish extravagances, over which one laughed inwardly; there were, besides, priestly matters, and the priestcraft of the book was far worse than its monkery. The ears burned on each side of my head as I listened, perforce, to tales of moral martyrdom inflicted by Rome; the dread boasts of confessors, who had wickedly abused their office, trampling to deep degradation high-born ladies, making of countesses and princesses the most tormented slaves under the sun. Stories like that of Conrad and Elizabeth of Hungary recurred again and again, with all its dreadful viciousness, sickening tyranny, and black impiety—tales that were nightmares of oppression, privation, and agony.

I sat out this lecture pieuse for some nights as well as I could, and as quietly too, only once breaking off the points of my scissors by involuntarily sticking them somewhat deep in the wormeaten board of the table before me. But at last it made me so burning hot, and my temples, and my heart, and my wrist throbbed so fast, and my sleep afterwards was so broken with excitement, that I could sit no longer. Prudence recommended henceforward a swift clearance of my person from the place the moment that guilty old book was brought out. No Mause Headrigg ever felt a stronger call to take up her testimony against Sergeant Bothwell than I to speak my mind in this matter of the popish lecture pieuse. However, I did manage somehow to curb and rein in; and though always, as soon as Rosine came to light the lamps, I shot from the room quickly, yet also I did it quietly, seizing that vantage moment given by the little bustle before the dead silence, and vanishing whilst the boarders put their books away.

When I vanished, it was into darkness. Candles were not allowed to be carried about, and the teacher who forsook the refectory had only the unlit hall, schoolroom, or bedroom as a refuge. In winter I sought

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