The Professor HTML version

Chapter 14
IF I was punctual in quitting Mdlle. Reuter's domicile, I was at least equally
punctual in arriving there; I came the next day at five minutes before two, and on
reaching the schoolroom door, before I opened it, I heard a rapid, gabbling
sound, which warned me that the "priere du midi" was not yet concluded. I waited
the termination thereof; it would have been impious to intrude my heretical
presence during its progress. How the repeater of the prayer did cackle and
splutter! I never before or since heard language enounced with such steam-
engine haste. "Notre Pere qui etes au ciel" went off like a shot; then followed an
address to Marie "vierge celeste, reine des anges, maison d'or, tour d'ivoire!" and
then an invocation to the saint of the day; and then down they all sat, and the
solemn (?) rite was over; and I entered, flinging the door wide and striding in fast,
as it was my wont to do now; for I had found that in entering with aplomb, and
mounting the estrade with emphasis, consisted the grand secret of ensuring
immediate silence. The folding-doors between the two classes, opened for the
prayer, were instantly closed; a maitresse, work-box in hand, took her seat at her
appropriate desk; the pupils sat still with their pens and books before them; my
three beauties in the van, now well humbled by a demeanour of consistent
coolness, sat erect with their hands folded quietly on their knees; they had given
up giggling and whispering to each other, and no longer ventured to utter pert
speeches in my presence; they now only talked to me occasionally with their
eyes, by means of which organs they could still, however, say very audacious
and coquettish things. Had affection, goodness, modesty, real talent, ever
employed those bright orbs as interpreters, I do not think I could have refrained
from giving a kind and encouraging, perhaps an ardent reply now and then; but
as it was, I found pleasure in answering the glance of vanity with the gaze of
stoicism. Youthful, fair, brilliant, as were many of my pupils, I can truly say that in
me they never saw any other bearing than such as an austere, though just
guardian, might have observed towards them. If any doubt the accuracy of this
assertion, as inferring more conscientious self-denial or Scipio-like self-control
than they feel disposed to give me credit for, let them take into consideration the
following circumstances, which, while detracting from my merit, justify my
Know, O incredulous reader! that a master stands in a somewhat different
relation towards a pretty, light-headed, probably ignorant girl, to that occupied by
a partner at a ball, or a gallant on the promenade. A professor does not meet his
pupil to see her dressed in satin and muslin, with hair perfumed and curled, neck
scarcely shaded by aerial lace, round white arms circled with bracelets, feet
dressed for the gliding dance. It is not his business to whirl her through the waltz,
to feed her with compliments, to heighten her beauty by the flush of gratified
vanity. Neither does he encounter her on the smooth-rolled, tree shaded
Boulevard, in the green and sunny park, whither she repairs clad in her becoming
walking dress, her scarf thrown with grace over her shoulders, her little bonnet
scarcely screening her curls, the red rose under its brim adding a new tint to the