The Professor HTML version

Chapter 15
SOME time elapsed before I again gave a lesson in the first class; the holiday of
Whitsuntide occupied three days, and on the fourth it was the turn of the second
division to receive my instructions. As I made the transit of the carré, I observed,
as usual, the band of sewers surrounding Mdlle. Henri; there were only about a
dozen of them, but they made as much noise as might have sufficed for fifty; they
seemed very little under her control; three or four at once assailed her with
importunate requirements; she looked harassed, she demanded silence, but in
vain. She saw me, and I read in her eye pain that a stranger should witness the
insubordination of her pupils; she seemed to entreat order--her prayers were
useless; then I remarked that she compressed her lips and contracted her brow;
and her countenance, if I read it correctly, said--"I have done my best; I seem to
merit blame notwithstanding; blame me then who will." I passed on; as I closed
the school-room door, I heard her say, suddenly and sharply, addressing one of
the eldest and most turbulent of the lot--
"Amelie Mullenberg, ask me no question, and request of me no assistance, for a
week to come; during that space of time I will neither speak to you nor help you."
The words were uttered with emphasis--nay, with vehemence--and a
comparative silence followed; whether the calm was permanent, I know not; two
doors now closed between me and the carré.
Next day was appropriated to the first class; on my arrival, I found the directress
seated, as usual, in a chair between the two estrades, and before her was
standing Mdlle. Henri, in an attitude (as it seemed to me) of somewhat reluctant
attention. The directress was knitting and talking at the same time. Amidst the
hum of a large school-room, it was easy so to speak in the ear of one person, as
to be heard by that person alone, and it was thus Mdlle. Reuter parleyed with her
teacher. The face of the latter was a little flushed, not a little troubled; there was
vexation in it, whence resulting I know not, for the directress looked very placid
indeed; she could not be scolding in such gentle whispers, and with so equable a
mien; no, it was presently proved that her discourse had been of the most
friendly tendency, for I heard the closing words--
"C'est assez, ma bonne amie; a present je ne veux pas vous retenir davantage."
Without reply, Mdlle. Henri turned away; dissatifaction was plainly evinced in her
face, and a smile, slight and brief, but bitter, distrustful, and, I thought, scornful,
curled her lip as she took her place in the class; it was a secret, involuntary
smile, which lasted but a second; an air of depression succeeded, chased away
presently by one of attention and interest, when I gave the word for all the pupils
to take their reading-books. In general I hated the reading-lesson, it was such a
torture to the ear to listen to their uncouth mouthing of my native tongue, and no
effort of example or precept on my part ever seemed to effect the slightest
improvement in their accent. To-day, each in her appropriate key, lisped,