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Villette

29. Monsieur's Fête
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 re-attached 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, arid, 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 hand 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
 
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