Monsieur's Fete

I was up the next morning an hour before daybreak, and finished my guard, kneeling on the dormitory floor beside the centre stand, for the benefit of such expiring glimmer as the night-lamp afforded in its last watch.

All my materials—my whole stock of beads and silk—were used up before the chain assumed the length and richness I wished. I had wrought it double, as I knew, by the rule of contraries, that to suit the particular taste whose gratification was in view, an effective appearance was quite indispensable. As a finish to the ornament, a little gold clasp was needed; fortunately, I possessed it in the fastening of my sole necklace. I duly detached and reattached it, then coiled compactly the completed guard, and enclosed it in a small box I had bought for its brilliancy, made of some tropic shell of the colour called “nacarat,” and decked with a little coronal of sparkling blue stones. Within the lid of the box I carefully graved with my scissors point certain initials.

The reader will, perhaps, remember the description of Madame Beck’s fête; nor will he have forgotten that at each anniversary a handsome present was subscribed for and offered by the school. The observance of this day was a distinction accorded to none but madame, and, in a modified form, to her kinsman and counsellor, M. Emanuel. In the latter case it was an honour spontaneously awarded, not plotted and contrived beforehand, and offered an additional proof, amongst many others, of the estimation in which—despite his partialities, prejudices, and irritabilities—the professor of literature was held by his pupils. No article of value was offered to him. He distinctly gave it to be understood that he would accept neither plate nor jewellery. Yet he liked a slight tribute; the cost, the money value, did not touch him. A diamond ring, a gold snuff-box, presented with pomp, would have pleased him less than a flower or a drawing offered simply and with sincere feelings. Such was his nature. He was a man, not wise in his generation, yet could he claim a filial sympathy with “the dayspring on high.”

M. Paul’s fête fell on the first of March and a Thursday. It proved a fine sunny day, and being likewise the morning on which it was customary to attend mass, being also otherwise distinguished by the half- holiday which permitted the privilege of walking out, shopping, or paying visits in the afternoon, these combined considerations induced a general smartness and freshness of dress. Clean collars were in vogue; the ordinary dingy woollen classe dress was exchanged for something lighter and clearer. Mademoiselle Zélie St. Pierre, on this particular Thursday, even assumed a robe de soie, deemed in economical Labassecour an article of hazardous splendour and luxury—nay, it was remarked that she sent for a coiffeur to dress her hair that morning; there were pupils acute enough to discover that she had bedewed her handkerchief and her hands with a new and fashionable perfume. Poor Zélie! It was much her wont to declare about this time that she was tired to death of a life of seclusion and labour, that she longed to have the means and leisure for relaxation, to have some one to work for her—a husband who would pay her debts (she was woefully encumbered with debt), supply her wardrobe, and leave her at liberty, as she said, to “goûter un peu les plaisirs.” It had long been rumoured that her eye was upon M. Emanuel. Monsieur Emanuel’s eye was certainly often upon her. He would sit and watch her perseveringly for minutes together. I have seen him give her a quarter of an hour’s gaze, while the class was silently composing, and he sat throned on his estrade unoccupied. Conscious always of this basilisk attention, she would writhe under it, half flattered, half puzzled, and monsieur would follow her sensations, sometimes looking appallingly acute—for in some cases he had the terrible unerring penetration of instinct, and pierced in its hiding-place the last lurking thought of the heart, and discerned under florid veilings the bare, barren places of the spirit; yes, and its perverted tendencies, and its hidden false curves—all that men and women would not have known—the twisted spine, the malformed limb that was born with them, and far worse, the stain or disfigurement they have perhaps brought on themselves. No calamity so accursed but M. Emanuel could pity and forgive, if it were acknowledged candidly; but where his questioning eyes met dishonest denial—where his ruthless researches found deceitful concealment—oh, then, he could be cruel, and I thought wicked. He would exultantly snatch the screen from poor shrinking wretches, passionately hurry them to the summit of the mount of exposure, and there show them all naked, all false, poor living lies, the spawn of that horrid truth which cannot be looked on unveiled. He thought he did justice; for my part, I doubt whether man has a right to do such justice on man. More than once in these his visitations I

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