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The Professor

Chapter 17
AFTER all I had profited but imperfectly by the opportunity I had so boldly
achieved of speaking to Mdlle. Henri; it was my intention to ask her how she
came to be possessed of two English baptismal names, Frances and Evans, in
addition to her French surname, also whence she derived her good accent. I had
forgotten both points, or, rather, our colloquy had been so brief that I had not had
time to bring them forward; moreover, I had not half tested her powers of
speaking English; all I had drawn from her in that language were the words
"Yes," and "Thank you, sir." "No matter," I reflected. "What has been left
incomplete now, shall be finished another day." Nor did I fail to keep the promise
thus made to myself. It was difficult to get even a few words of particular
conversation with one pupil among so many; but, according to the old proverb,
"Where there is a will, there is a way;" and again and again I managed to find an
opportunity for exchanging a few words with Mdlle. Henri, regardless that envy
stared and detraction whispered whenever I approached her.
"Your book an instant." Such was the mode in which I often began these brief
dialogues; the time was always just at the conclusion of the lesson; and
motioning to her to rise, I installed myself in her place, allowing her to stand
deferentially at my side; for I esteemed it wise and right in her case to enforce
strictly all forms ordinarily in use between master and pupil; the rather because I
perceived that in proportion as my manner grew austere and magisterial, hers
became easy and self-possessed--an odd contradiction, doubtless, to the
ordinary effect in such cases; but so it was.
"A pencil," said I, holding out my hand without looking at her. (I am now about to
sketch a brief report of the first of these conferences.) She gave me one, and
while I underlined some errors in a grammatical exercise she had written, I
observed--
"You are not a native of Belgium?"
"No."
"Nor of France?"
"No."
"Where, then, is your birthplace?"
"I was born at Geneva."
"You don't call Frances and Evans Swiss names, I presume?"
"No, sir; they are English names."
"Just so; and is it the custom of the Genevese to give their children English
appellatives?"
"Non, Monsieur; mais--"
"Speak English, if you please."
"Mais--"
"English--"
"But" (slowly and with embarrassment) "my parents were not all the two
Genevese."
"Say both, instead of 'all the two,' mademoiselle."
 
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