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14. The Fête
As soon as Georgette was well, madame sent her away into the country. I was sorry; I
loved the child, and her loss made me poorer than before. But I must not complain. I
lived in a house full of robust life; I might have had companions and I chose solitude.
Each of the teachers in turn made me overtures of special intimacy; I tried them all. One I
found to be an honest woman, but a narrow thinker, a coarse feeler, and an egotist. The
second was a Parisienne, externally refined - at heart, corrupt - without a creed, without a
principle, without an affection: having penetrated the outward crust of decorum in this
character, you found a slough beneath. She had a wonderful passion for presents; and, in
this point, the third teacher - a person otherwise characterless and insignificant - closely
resembled her. This last-named had also one other distinctive property - that of avarice.
In her reigned the love of money for its own sake. The sight of a piece of gold would
bring into her eyes a green glisten, singular to witness. She once, as a mark of high
favour, took me upstairs, and, opening a secret door, showed me a hoard - a mass of
coarse, large coin - about fifteen guineas, in five-franc pieces. She loved this hoard as a
bird loves its eggs. These were her savings. She would come and talk to me about them
with an infatuated and persevering dotage, strange to behold in a person not yet twenty-
The Parisienne on the other hand, was prodigal and profligate (in disposition, that is: as to
action, I do not know). That latter quality showed its snake-head to me but once, peering
out very cautiously. A curious kind of reptile it seemed, judging from the glimpse I got;
its novelty whetted my curiosity: if it would have come out boldly, perhaps I might
philosophically have stood my ground, and coolly surveyed the long thing from forked
tongue to scaly tail-tip; but it merely rustled in the leaves of a bad novel; and, on
encountering a hasty and ill-advised demonstration of wrath, recoiled and vanished,
hissing. She hated me from that day.
This Parisienne was always in debt; her salary being anticipated, not only in dress, but in
perfumes, cosmetics, confectionery and condiments. What a cold, callous epicure she was
in all things! I see her now. Thin in face and figure, sallow in complexion, regular in
features, with perfect teeth, lips like a thread, a large prominent chin, a well-opened, but
frozen eye, of light at once craving and ingrate. She mortally hated work, and loved what
she called pleasure, being an insipid, heartless, brainless dissipation of time.
Madame Beck knew this woman's character perfectly well. She once talked to me about
her, with an odd mixture of discrimination, indifference, and antipathy. I asked why she
kept her in the establishment. She answered plainly, 'because it suited her interest to do
so'; and pointed out a fact I had already noticed, namely that Mademoiselle St. Pierre
possessed, in an almost unique degree, the power of keeping order amongst her
undisciplined ranks of scholars. A certain petrifying influence accompanied and
surrounded her: without passion, noise, or violence, she held them in check as a
breezeless frost air might still a brawling stream. She was of little use as far as
communication of knowledge went, but for strict surveillance and maintenance of rules