The Fete

As soon as Georgette was well, madame sent her away into the country. I was sorry; I loved the child, and her loss made me poorer than before. But I must not complain. I lived in a house full of robust life; I might have had companions, and I chose solitude. Each of the teachers in turn made me overtures of special intimacy; I tried them all. One I found to be an honest woman, but a narrow thinker, a coarse feeler, and an egotist. The second was a Parisienne, externally refined, at heart corrupt, without a creed, without a principle, without an affection. Having penetrated the outward crust of decorum in this character, you found a slough beneath. She had a wonderful passion for presents; and in this point the third teacher—a person otherwise characterless and insignificant—closely resembled her. This last-named had also one other distinctive property—that of avarice. In her reigned the love of money for its own sake. The sight of a piece of gold would bring into her eyes a green glisten, singular to witness. She once, as a mark of high favour, took me upstairs, and, opening a secret door, showed me a hoard—a mass of coarse, large coin—about fifteen guineas, in five-franc pieces. She loved this hoard as a bird loves its eggs. These were her savings. She would come and talk to me about them with an infatuated and persevering dotage strange to behold in a person not yet twenty-five.

The Parisienne, on the other hand, was prodigal and profligate (in disposition, that is; as to action, I do not know). That latter quality showed its snake-head to me but once, peeping out very cautiously. A curious kind of reptile it seemed, judging from the glimpse I got. Its novelty whetted my curiosity. If it would have come out boldly, perhaps I might philosophically have stood my ground, and coolly surveyed the long thing from forked tongue to scaly tail-tip; but it merely rustled in the leaves of a bad novel, and on encountering a hasty and ill-advised demonstration of wrath, recoiled and vanished, hissing. She hated me from that day.

This Parisienne was always in debt, her salary being anticipated, not only in dress, but in perfumes, cosmetics, confectionery, and condiments. What a cold, callous epicure she was in all things! I see her now. Thin in face and figure, sallow in complexion, regular in features, with perfect teeth, lips like a thread, a large, prominent chin, a well-opened but frozen eye, of light at once craving and ingrate. She mortally hated work, and loved what she called pleasure—being an insipid, heartless, brainless dissipation of time.

Madame Beck knew this woman’s character perfectly well. She once talked to me about her, with an odd mixture of discrimination, indifference, and antipathy. I asked why she kept her in the establishment. She answered plainly, “because it suited her interest to do so,” and pointed out a fact I had already noticed—namely, that Mademoiselle St. Pierre possessed, in an almost unique degree, the power of keeping order amongst her undisciplined ranks of scholars. A certain petrifying influence accompanied and surrounded her. Without passion, noise, or violence, she held them in check as a breezeless frost-air might still a brawling stream. She was of little use as far as communication of knowledge went, but for strict surveillance and maintenance of rules she was invaluable. “Je sais bien qu’elle n’a pas de principes, ni, peutêtre, de mœurs,” admitted madame frankly; but added with philosophy, “Son maintien en classe est toujours convenable et rempli même d’une certaine dignité: c’est tout ce qu’il faut. Ni les élèves ni les parents ne regardent plus loin; ni, par conséquent, moi non plus.”

A strange, frolicsome, noisy little world was this school. Great pains were taken to hide chains with flowers; a subtle essence of Romanism pervaded every arrangement; large sensual indulgence (so to speak) was permitted by way of counterpoise to jealous spiritual restraint. Each mind was being reared in slavery; but, to prevent reflection from dwelling on this fact, every pretext for physical recreation was seized and made the most of. There, as elsewhere, the Church strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning. “Eat, drink, and live,” she says. “Look after your bodies; leave your souls to me. I hold their cure, guide their course; I guarantee their final fate.” A bargain, in which every true Catholic deems himself a gainer. Lucifer just offers the same terms: “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of it, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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