The long Vacation

Following Madame Beck’s fête, with its three preceding weeks of relaxation, its brief twelve hours’ burst of hilarity and dissipation, and its one subsequent day of utter languor, came a period of reaction—two months of real application, of close, hard study. These two months, being the last of the année scolaire, were indeed the only genuine working months in the year. To them was procrastinated—into them concentrated, alike by professors, mistresses, and pupils—the main burden of preparation for the examinations preceding the distribution of prizes. Candidates for rewards had then to work in good earnest; masters and teachers had to set their shoulders to the wheel, to urge on the backward, and diligently aid and train the more promising. A showy demonstration, a telling exhibition, must be got up for public view, and all means were fair to this end.

I scarcely noted how the other teachers went to work—I had my own business to mind; and my task was not the least onerous, being to imbue some ninety sets of brains with a due tincture of what they considered a most complicated and difficult science—that of the English language; and to drill ninety tongues in what, for them, was an almost impossible pronunciation—the lisping and hissing dentals of the isles.

The examination day arrived. Awful day! Prepared for with anxious care, dressed for with silent dispatch—nothing vaporous or fluttering now—no white gauze or azure streamers; the grave, close, compact was the order of the toilet. It seemed to me that I was this day especially doomed, the main burden and trial falling on me alone of all the female teachers. The others were not expected to examine in the studies they taught, the professor of literature, M. Paul, taking upon himself this duty. He, this school autocrat, gathered all and sundry reins into the hollow of his one hand; he irefully rejected any colleague; he would not have help. Madame herself, who evidently rather wished to undertake the examination in geography—her favourite study, which she taught well—was forced to succumb, and be subordinate to her despotic kinsman’s direction. The whole staff of instructors, male and female, he set aside, and stood on the examiner’s estrade alone. It irked him that he was forced to make one exception to this rule. He could not manage English. He was obliged to leave that branch of education in the English teacher’s hands; which he did, not without a flash of naïve jealousy.

A constant crusade against the amour-propre of every human being but himself was the crotchet of this able but fiery and grasping little man. He had a strong relish for public representation in his own person, but an extreme abhorrence of the like display in any other. He quelled, he kept down when he could; and when he could not, he fumed like a bottled storm.

On the evening preceding the examination day I was walking in the garden, as were the other teachers and all the boarders. M. Emanuel joined me in the allée défendue. His cigar was at his lips; his paletot—a most characteristic garment of no particular shape—hung dark and menacing; the tassel of his bonnet grec sternly shadowed his left temple; his black whiskers curled like those of a wrathful cat; his blue eye had a cloud in its glitter.

“Ainsi,” he began, abruptly fronting and arresting me, “vous allez trôner comme une reine; demain—trôner à mes côtés? Sans doute vous savourez d’avance les délices de l’autorité. Je crois voir en je ne sais quoi de rayonnante, petite ambitieuse!”

Now the fact was, he happened to be entirely mistaken. I did not—could not—estimate the admiration or the good opinion of to-morrow’s audience at the same rate he did. Had that audience numbered as many personal friends and acquaintance for me as for him, I know not how it might have been. I speak of the case as it stood. On me school-triumphs shed but a cold lustre. I had wondered—and I wondered now—how it was that for him they seemed to shine as with hearth-warmth and hearth-glow. He cared for them perhaps too much; I, probably, too little. However, I had my own fancies as well as he. I liked, for instance, to see M. Emanuel jealous; it lit up his nature, and woke his spirit; it threw all sorts of queer lights and shadows over his dun face and into his violet-azure eyes (he used to say that his black hair and blue eyes were “une de ses beautés”). There was a relish in his anger; it was artless, earnest, quite unreasonable, but never hypocritical. I uttered no disclaimer then of the complacency he

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.