About this time—in the ripest glow of summer—Madame Beck’s house became as merry a place as a school could well be. All day long the broad folding-doors and the two-leaved casements stood wide open. Settled sunshine seemed naturalized in the atmosphere; clouds were far off, sailing away beyond sea, resting, no doubt, round islands such as England—that dear land of mists—but withdrawn wholly from the drier Continent. We lived far more in the garden than under a roof. Classes were held, and meals partaken of, in the grand berceau. Moreover, there was a note of holiday preparation which almost turned freedom into license. The autumnal long vacation was but two months distant; but before that a great day, an important ceremony—none other than the fête of madame—awaited celebration.

The conduct of this fête devolved chiefly on Mademoiselle St. Pierre, madame herself being supposed to stand aloof, disinterestedly unconscious of what might be going forward in her honour. Especially, she never knew, never in the least suspected, that a subscription was annually levied on the whole school for the purchase of a handsome present. The polite tact of the reader will please to leave out of the account a brief, secret consultation on this point in madame’s own chamber.

“What will you have this year?” was asked by her Parisian lieutenant.

“Oh, no matter! Let it alone. Let the poor children keep their francs.” And madame looked benign and modest.

The St. Pierre would here protrude her chin; she knew madame by heart; she always called her airs of bonté “des grimaces.” She never even professed to respect them one instant.

“Vite!” she would say coldly. “Name the article. Shall it be jewellery or porcelain, haberdashery or silver?”

“Eh bien! Deux ou trois cuillers et autant de four-chettes en argent.”

And the result was a handsome case, containing three hundred francs’ worth of plate.

The programme of the fête-day’s proceedings comprised: presentation of plate, collation in the garden, dramatic performance (with pupils and teachers for actors), a dance, and supper. Very gorgeous seemed the effect of the whole to me, as I well remember. Zélie St. Pierre understood these things, and managed them ably.

The play was the main point, a month’s previous drilling being there required. The choice, too, of the actors required knowledge and care; then came lessons in elocution, in attitude, and then the fatigue of countless rehearsals. For all this, as may well be supposed, St. Pierre did not suffice; other management, other accomplishments than hers were requisite here. They were supplied in the person of a master—M. Paul Emanuel, professor of literature. It was never my lot to be present at the histrionic lessons of M. Paul, but I often saw him as he crossed the carré (a square hall between the dwelling-house and school-house). I heard him, too, in the warm evenings, lecturing with open doors; and his name, with anecdotes of him, resounded in one’s ears from all sides. Especially our former acquaintance, Miss Ginevra Fanshawe, who had been selected to take a prominent part in the play, used, in bestowing upon me a large portion of her leisure, to lard her discourse with frequent allusions to his sayings and doings. She esteemed him hideously plain, and used to profess herself frightened almost into hysterics at the sound of his step or voice. A dark little man he certainly was, pungent and austere. Even to me he seemed a harsh apparition, with his close-shorn black head, his broad, sallow brow, his thin cheek, his wide and quivering nostril, his thorough glance, and hurried bearing. Irritable he was; one heard that, as he apostrophized with vehemence the awkward squad under his orders. Sometimes he would break out on these raw amateur actresses with a passion of impatience at their falseness of conception, their coldness of emotion, their feebleness of delivery. “Ecoutez!” he would cry; and then his voice rang through the premises like a trumpet; and when, mimicking it, came the small pipe of a Ginevra, a Mathilde, or a Blanche, one understood why a hollow groan of scorn, or a fierce hiss of rage, rewarded the tame echo.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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