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11. The Portresse's Cabinet
It was summer and very hot. Georgette, the youngest of Madame Beck's children, took a
fever. Désirée, suddenly cured of her ailments was, together with Fifine, packed off to
Bonne-Maman in the country, by way of precaution against infection. Medical aid was
now really needed, and Madame, choosing to ignore the return of Dr. Pillule, who had
been at home a week, conjured his English rival to continue his visits. One or two of the
pensionnaires complained of headache, and in other respects seemed slightly to
participate in Georgette's ailment. 'Now, at last', I thought, 'Dr. Pillule must be recalled:
the prudent directress will never venture to permit the attendance of so young a man on
the pupils.'
The directress was very prudent, but she could also be intrepidly venturous. She actually
introduced Dr. John to the school-division of the premises, and established him in
attendance on the proud and handsome Blanche de Melcy, and the vain, flirting
Angélique, her friend. Dr. John, I thought, testified a certain gratification at this mark of
confidence; and if discretion of bearing could have justified the step, it would by him
have been amply justified. Here, however, in this land of convents and confessionals,
such a presence as his was not to be suffered with impunity in a 'pensionnat de
demoiselles.' The school gossipped, the kitchen whispered, the town caught the rumour,
parents wrote letters and paid visits of remonstrance. Madame, had she been weak, would
now have been lost: a dozen rival educational houses were ready to improve this false
step - if false step it were - to her ruin; but Madame was not weak, and little Jesuit though
she might be, yet I clapped the hands of my heart, and with its voice cried 'brava!' as I
watched her able bearing, her skilled management, her temper and her firmness on this
She met the alarmed parents with a good-humoured, easy grace: for nobody matched her
in, I know not whether to say the possession or the assumption of a certain 'rondeur et
franchise de bonne femme'; which on various occasions gained the point aimed at with
instant and complete success, where severe gravity and serious reasoning would probably
have failed.
'Ce pauvre Docteur Jean!' she would say, chuckling and rubbing joyously her fat, little,
white hands; 'ce cher jeune homme! le meilleur créature du monde!' and go on to explain
how she happened to be employing him for her own children, who were so fond of him
they would scream themselves into fits at the thought of another doctor; how where she
had confidence for her own, she thought it natural to repose trust for others, and au reste
it was only the most temporary expedient in the world; Blanche and Angélique had the
migraine; Dr. John had written a prescription; voilà tout!
The parents' mouths were closed. Blanche and Angélique saved her all remaining trouble
by chanting loud duets in their physician's praise; the other pupils echoed them,
unanimously declaring that when they were ill they would have Dr. John and nobody
else; and Madame laughed, and the parents laughed too. The Labassecouriens must have