« ZurückWeiter »
THE SCHOOL EXAMINATION.
was the line, there was the leader. The great juncture of the day was on him. Was not here the State's official eye? Did not victory hover overhead ? His reserve, the darling regiment, the flower of his army, was dressing for the final charge. There was Claude. Next him, Sidonie !—and Etienne, and Madelaine, Henri and Marcelline,-all waiting for the word—the words-of eight syllables ! Supreme moment! Would any betray ?
Banish the thought ! Would any fail ?
He waited an instant while two or three mothers bore out great armfuls of slumbering or fretting infancy, and a number of young men sank down into the vacated chairs. Then he stepped down from the platform, drew back four or five yards from the class, opened the spelling-book, scanned the first word, closed the book with his finger at the place, lifted it high above his head, and cried
“Claude ! Claude, my brave scholar, always perfect, ah you ready?" He gave the little book a half whirl round, and dashed forward towards the chosen scholar, crying as he came
Claude's face suddenly set in a stony vacancy, and with his eyes staring straight before him he responded
“I-n, in-, e, inerad-, r-a-d, rad-, inerad-, ineraddy-, ineradica-, C-a, ca, ineradica-, ineradicabili-, b-i-elly-billy, ineradicabili-, ineradicabili-, t-y, ty, ineradicability.”
“Right ! Claude, my boy! my always good scholar, right !” The master drew back to his starting-place as he spoke, re-opened the book, shut it again, lifted it high in the air, cried, “Madelaine, my dear chile, prepare !” whirled the book and rushed upon her with —
“I-n, een, d-e, de-, inde-, indefat-, indefat-fat–f-a-t, fat, indefat, indefatty, i, ty, indefati-, indefatiga-, g-a, ga, indefatiga-, indefatigabilly, b-i-elly, billy, indefatigabili-, t-y, ty, indefatigability."
"O, Madelaine, my chile, you make yo' teacher proud! prah-ood, my chile !” Bonaventure's hand rested a moment tenderly on her head as he looked first towards the audience and then towards the stranger. Then he drew off for the third word.
He looked at it twice before he called it. Then, “Sidonie ! ah! Sidonie, be ready! be prepared ! fail not yo' humble school-teacher ! In-com
He looked at the word a third time, and then swept down upon her; “In-com-pre-hen-si-ca-bility /”
Sidonie flinched not nor looked upon him, as he hung over her with the spelling-book at arm's reach above them; yet the pause that followed seemed to speak dismay, and throughout the class there was a silent recoil from something undiscovered by the master. But an instant later Sidonie had chosen between the two horns of her agonising dilemma, and began
“I-n, een, c-o-m, cawm, eencawm, eencawmpre, p-r-e, pre, eencawmpre, eencawmprehen, prehen, haich-e-n, hen, hen, eencawmprehensi, s-i, si, eencawmprehensi-, bil-"
“Ah! Sidonie ! stop! Arretez! Si-do-nie-e-e-e! Oh! listen-écoutez—Sidonie, my dear !” The master threw his arms up and down in distraction, then suddenly faced the visitor. “Sir, it was my blame! I spoke the word without adequate distinction! Sidonie-maintenant-now!” But a voice in the audience interrupted with
“ Assoiez-vous la, Chat-oué ! seet down yondeh 1” And at the potent voice of Maximian Roussel the offender was pushed silently into the seat he had risen from, and Bonaventure gave the word again.
“ In-com-pre-hen-si-ca-bil-i-ty !” And Sidonie, blushing like fire, returned to the task.
“I-n, een She bit her lips and trembled.
"Right! Right! Tremble not, my Sidonie! fear naught ! yo'loving school-teacher is at thy side! But she trembled like a red leaf as she spelled on—“Haich-e-n, hen, eencawmprehen, eencawmprehensi, si, si, eencawmprehensi-, eencawmprehensi-billy-t-y, ty, incomprehensibility!”
The master dropped his hands and lifted his eyes in speechless despair. As they fell again upon Sidonie her own met them. She moaned, covered her face with her hands, burst into tears, ran to her desk, and threw her hands and face upon it, shaking with noiseless sobs and burning red to the nape of her perfect neck. All Grande Pointe rose to its feet.
“Lost !” cried Bonaventure in a heart-broken voice. “Every thing lost! Farewell, chilrun!” He opened his arms towards them, and with one dash all the lesser ones filled them. They wept. Tears welled from Bonaventure's eyes; and the mothers of Grande Pointe dropped again into their seats and silently added theirs.
The next moment all eyes were on Maximian. His strong figure was mounted on a chair, and he was making a gentle, commanding gesture with one hand as he called: “Seet down! Seet down, all han’!” and all sank down, Bonaventure in a mass of weeping and clinging children. ’Mian too resumed his seat, at the same time waving to the stranger to speak.
“My friends," said the visitor, rising with alacrity, "I say when a man makes a bargain, he ought to stick to it !” He paused for them—as many as could—to take in the meaning of his English speech, and, it may be, expecting some demonstration of approval; but dead silence reigned, all eyes on him save Bonaventure's and Sidonie's.
began again : “A bargain's a bargain !” And Chat-oué nodded approvingly and began to say audibly, “Yass;' but 'Mian thundered out
“Taise toi, Chat-oué ! Shot op!” And the silence was again complete, while the stranger resumed
“There was a plain bargain made.” He moved a step forward and laid the matter off on the palm of his hand. “ There was to be an examination! The school was not to
know; but if one scholar should make one mistake the schoolhouse was to be closed and the schoolmaster sent away. Well, there's been a mistake made, and I say a bargain's a bargain.” Dead silence still. The speaker looked at 'Mian. “ Do
you think they understand me?” “Dey meck out,” said 'Mian, and shut his firm jaws.
“My friends," said the stranger once more, some people think education's a big thing, and some think it ain't. Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it ain't. Now, here's this man”—he pointed down to where Bonaventure's dishevelled crown was drooping to his knees—"claims to have taught over thirty of your children to read. Well, what of it?' A man can know how to read, and be just as no account as he was before. He brags that he's taught them to talk English. Well, what does that prove? A man might speak English and starve to death. He claims, I am told, to have taught some of them to write. But I know a man in the penitentiary that can write; he wrote too much.”
Bonaventure had lifted his head, and was sitting with his eyes upon the speaker in close attention. At this last word he said
“Ah! sir! too true, too true ah yo' words; nevertheless, their cooelty! 'Tis not what is print in the books, but what you learn through the books !”
“Yes; and so you hadn't never ought to have made the bargain you made; but, my friends, a bargain's a bargain, and the teacher's—” He paused invitingly, and an answer came from the audience. It was Catou who rose and said,
"Naw, sah. Naw; he don't got to go!" But again 'Mian thundered
“ Taise toi, Catou. Shot op!”
" the mistake's been made. Three mistakes have been made !”
“Yass !” roared Chat-oué, leaping to his feet and turning upon the assemblage a face fierce with triumph. Suspense and suspicions were past now; he was to see his desire on his enemy. But instantly a dozen men were on their feet St. Pierre, Catou, Bonaventure himself, with a countenance full of pleading deprecation, and even Claude, flushed with anger.
Naw, sah! Naw, sah! Waun meesteck ?” “Seet down, all han’! ” yelled 'Mian; "all han' seet dahoon!" Only Chat-oué took his seat, glancing upon the rest