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Villette

28. The Watchguard
M. Paul Emanuel owned an acute sensitiveness to the annoyance of interruption, from
whatsoever cause occurring, during his lessons: to pass through the classe under such
circumstances was considered by the teachers and pupils of the school, individually and
collectively, to be as much as a woman's or girl's life was worth.
Madame Beck herself if forced to the enterprise, would 'skurry' through, retrenching her
skirts, and carefully coasting the formidable estrade, like a ship dreading breakers. As to
Rosine, the portress - on whom, every half hour, devolved the fearful duty of fetching
pupils out of the very heart of one or other of the divisions to take their music lessons in
the oratory, the great or little saloon, the salle-à-manger, or some other piano station - she
would, upon her second or third attempt, frequently become almost tongue-tied from
excess of consternation - a sentiment inspired by the unspeakable looks levelled at her
through a pair of dart-dealing spectacles.
One morning I was sitting in the carré; at work upon a piece of embroidery which one of
the pupils had commenced but delayed to finish, and while my fingers wrought at the
frame, my ears regaled themselves with listening to the crescendos and cadences of a
voice haranguing in the neighbouring classe, in tones that waxed momentarily more
unquiet, more ominously varied. There was a good strong partition wall between me and
the gathering storms, as well as a facile means of flight through the glass door to the
court, in case it swept this way; so I am afraid I derived more amusement than alarm from
these thickening symptoms. Poor Rosine was not safe: four times that blessed morning
had she made the passage of peril; and now, for the fifth time, it became her dangerous
duty to snatch, as it were, a brand from the burning - a pupil from under M. Paul's nose.
'Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!' cried she. 'Que vais-je devenir? Monsieur va me tuer, je suis sûre;
car il est d'une colère!'
Nerved by the courage of desperation, she opened the door.
'Mademoiselle La Malle au piano!' was her cry. Ere she could make good her retreat, or
quite close the door, this voice uttered itself: -
'Dès ce moment! - la classe est défendue. La première qui ouvrira cette porte, ou passera
par cette division, sera pendue - fût-ce Madame Beck elle-même!'
Ten minutes had not succeeded the promulgation of this decree, when Rosine's French
pantoufles were again heard shuffling along the corridor.
'Mademoiselle,' said she, 'I would not for a five-franc piece go into that classe again just
now: Monsieur's lunettes are really terrible; and here is a commissionaire come with a
message from the Athénée. I have told Madame Beck I dare not deliver it, and she says I
am to charge you with it.'
 
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