« AnteriorContinuar »
sented to the astonished eyes of her friends. Whether she seriously contemplated the mastering of the whole French grammar, I cannot say ; but certain it is that she devoted much of her spare time to its perusal.
It was on the next Tuesday morning that she was engaged in one of these studious perambulations, when, as she neared the little tool-house at the far end of the gardens, her attentia was arrested by a monotonous murmuring which issued from within.
She stopped to listen, and presently could clearly distinguish the familiar sound of a French irregular verb. The door of the tool-house was shut; but Meg peeped through the tiny slå which did duty for a window, and perceived Winnie sitting upon a flower-pot that had been turned upside down, and, with fingers in ears and eyes intent upon her book, repeating her verbs with all the zest and diligence of which a mortal child is capable.
To spring to the door, lock it, take out the key, and reappear at the window was with Meg the work of a second ; and not until she was a prisoner did Winnie even realise that her retreat had been discovered.
Now,' cried Meg excitedly, dancing up and down outsidenow, Miss Winnie, I can pay you out!'
What do you mean?' asked Winnie, getting up from her flower-pot. “What have you done?' * Locked you in, to be sure !' was Meg's prompt reply. And
• there I mean you to stay until-until you beg my pardon for behaving so shabbily the other day, and promise to give up ali claim to the big flag-ground till the very end of the world!
'I shall certainly do nothing of the kind,' said Winnie, quietly, sitting down again and beginning to turn over the leaves of her grammar.
* Unless, to be sure,' said Meg, 'you'll come and fight it out, as though we were sensible boys, instead of poor miserable girls. Will you fight it out, Winnie? We're about the same size-and the best man to have the flag-ground for ever. you for ever if you beat me-only you shouldn't.'
Once for all,' said Winnie, I can't bear, and mean to have nothing to do with your horrid, unladylike, rough, boy sort of ways. We are not boys, and we never shall be ; and I think it is great nonsense to talk their sort of talk, and try to behave like them. But, at any rate, people say that boys are much more
I should respect
fair than girls ; so if you want to be like a boy, you'd better begin by being fair. You know you're in the wrong about this. We had a right to the ground; and nobody ought to behave like you did, whether they're boys or girls.'
“Now, you're trying to get round me by arguing,' said Meg. * That's what people always do when they know it's their fault. But I never will argue,' she went on, loftily. 'And I don't care if you do call me names. What I care for is what people do--not what they say. Now, will you promise not to take the flag-ground again?'
'No,' said Winnie, 'I will not.'
*Then,' cried Meg, in a passion, you may just jolly well stay where you are!'
She threw the key into the bushes, and set off at a run, stopping, however, for a moment at Winnie's cry of Meg, Meg, come back, come back!' Well, what is it?' she said, with a glance over her shoulder.
I suppose you know what you're doing to me?' said Winnie, with a little more colour than usual in her pale face.
Meg might have paid more attention to her words but for cries of ‘Meg, Meg!'Marguérite, où êtes-vous ?' down one of the garden walks ; and, fearful that her prank might be discovered, she hurried away with a ‘Know it? Yes, of course I do!' to poor Winnie, who heard her rapidly departing footsteps and ' Oui, oui, Mademoiselle, me voici,' followed by the heavy opening and shutting of one of the iron gates of the gardens.
A bad conscience usually makes one rather cross all round ; and Meg had not much to say to the little boys on the way home. Indeed, for the most part, she kept up a sort of undercurrent of grumbling, directed at Mademoiselle for having, as she chose to express it, hurried her away from the gardens before she had time to look round.'
They had nearly got home, and she was just saying something of this sort, with a secret attempt to persuade herself that, if she had not been called away, she should have let Winnie out, when Mademoiselle, her good nature sorely tried, burst out with •Voyons, Marguérite, en voilà asses! Est-ce que vous voules
" renoncer à votre prix ? Vous ne savez donc pas que c'est ce matin la leçon de M. Lerou ?'
Meg stood stockstill, with wide-open eyes of amazement. * Ce matin ? Mardi ? Mais alors
Mardi ? Mais alors— Oh, I must run back to the gardens at once!'
This, Mademoiselle considered, was going quite too far even for Marguerite.' She caught Meg by the arm as she was
‘ actually setting off at a run, and, firmly refusing to hear another word, she fairly marched her into the house, and before Meg had fully understood how a note had come the night before, explaining the change of day and hour, and how it had been read aloud in the school-room, 'Mais vous ne faites jamais attention à rien,' and how she was not to talk bêtises, but put on her best hat, she found herself in a four-wheeler, with Mademoiselle and the boys, rattling away in the direction of Mrs. West's house. Meg did not shine at the French class that day ; Winnie did not appear. “That makes twice that Winnie Mainwaring's missed,' said one of the Moss boys, when the class was over.
So she's out of it. Meg, you're sure of the prize. Hurray!'
And I remember wondering why Meg told him so crossly not to make a row in the hall. She said it was a most snobbish thing to do. That, as I said, was on the Tuesday, and the examination was to be on the Wednesday week-a most informal examination, entirely vivå voce, and the prize to be awarded then and there in the presence of such mammas, elder sisters and governesses as might be able to attend. During the interval, Meg did not appear in the garden, and we supposed it was because she was too anxious about her preparations for the great day to be willing to expose herself to the temptation of playing flags. But I remember my little brother saying, in an awe-struck voice, to Claude, who did come to the gardens once or twice with his nursery-maid: “Does Meg do lessons all day long now?' and Claude, answering, No, she wouldn't be let to do that. But she's always asking Mademoiselle to take us to see the horses in Rotten Row, or the shops, and so we don't have hardly any time for the gardens.'
That eventful Wednesday arrived at last, and before three o'clock the members of the French class were assembling at Mrs. West's house in Curzon Street. There was great excitement among us all, but more excited than even his pupils Lerou himself. It was to be a scene after his own heart; there would be an opportunity for dramatic effect ; his children would distinguish themselves ; their parents would be pleased, he should be proud; the prize would be solemnly awarded, the winner crowned with a wreath of laurel, the other children battant des mains et criant hussa-vive notre ami! little speeches would be made, and compliments paid; and finally, parents, pupils, and
professor would take leave of one another amid a sort of elat and enthusiasm unknown on former occasions. He had planned it all beforehand, and he received us with a beaming face, marshalling us into our places as we arrived, and at the same time keeping up a running flow of conversation with our accompanying parents and guardians. In the centre of the room stood a table, on which were a magnificently bound copy of Lafontaine's Fables,' a wreath of laurels, and a bouquet of roses ; in front of this were ranged eight chairs, for the number of eligible competitors had proved not to exceed that number; behind these were forms, on which the non-competing pupils were accommodated, while the grown-up people were seated on sofas and arm-chairs, in a sort of circle round the room. Meg arrived rather late, and took her seat on the last of the eight front chairs, just as M. Lerou was clearing his throat for the little introductory speech with which proceedings were to commence. With many smiles and gestures he explained to us the nature of the ceremony in which we were about to take part. It was not, he said, that he felt that we needed any incentive to diligence in our studies, for he knew well that our enthusiasm for the noble language in which it was his privilege to instruct us was in no wise inferior to his own. (I saw Leonard Moss wink at David, and the corners of Meg's mouth twitched.) He was ravi to remark in most of us une vraie passion pour l'étude, but that made him all the more anxious to foster and encourage by every means in his power the excellent dispositions that we had shown. And, moreover, he thought that l'émulation was not without its good effects on les jeunes personnes.
Therefore it was that he had arranged this little séance, and he knew well that his dearly-loved pupils would rejoice to do him honour by displaying their proficiency in the presence of those dear parents, to please and satisfy whom was their highest wish, as it was his own. It might, perhaps, be thought that he was trop dur in one regulation which he had made-he referred to that which excluded from the competition those who had missed more than one class during the term. He regretted immensely the necessity for this, but he had felt it to be necessary, as he was convinced that a little more enthusiasm for their studies-much enthusiasm existed, as he had said beforebut he must permit himself to say that a little more would in some cases produce that regularity without which the most brilliant talents sometimes missed their effect. And so he had
thought that this little disability to compete for the prize would, perhaps, be of some little assistance towards producing that enthusiasm and that regularity in the future. He then proceeded to explain that he should begin with a little examination in grammar, that he should then recite an English anecdote, which the competitors were to write down in French upon their slates, that a fable of Lafontaine would then be repeated by heart, and that finally, while the whole class, including non-competitors, sang a little song which he had composed for the occasion, and which began :
'Adieu, notre maître ! les vacances vont commencer ;
Adieu, les autres ! adieu, notre classe si chère !
Adieu, notre maître! adieu, notre presque père !' he should look over and correct the six compositions, after which the prize would be awarded, the crown of laurels placed on the winner's head, and the bouquet of roses handed to him or her, with the request that it might be presented to 'sa maman de la part de son maître enchanté.'
There were also various rubans d'honneur to be awarded to those who might distinguish themselves in minor degrees.
• Maintenant, Messieurs et Mesdemoiselles,' finally concluded M. Lerou, turning to his eight victims, Meg and Cyril Dacre, the two Moss boys, Aline West, and three children who did not belong to the gardens. They sat there in various stages of shyness and sheepishness, all very far removed from the enthusiasm his speech had been calculated to evoke. “Maintenant, faites attention, s'il vous plaît : l'examen aura lieu tout-de-suite.'
It looked as though the professor's confidence in his pupils had been somewhat overstated ; at all events, he guarded against a catastrophe at the outset by putting a question about the answer to which there could be no doubt in the mind of any one who has ever opened a French grammar.
• Monsieur !' he said, with great majesty, making a kind of bow to David Moss, whose face immediately became suffused with blushes, while he wriggled uncomfortably on his chair.
Monsieur !' (debout, s'il vous plaît) faites-moi le plaisir de me répéter, ainsi qu'à vos compagnons, et à ces dames, faites-moi le plaisir de répéter le présent de l'indicatif du verbe aimer—to love. To love-aimer. Le présent de l'indicatif, M. David !' And when David had mumbled it out in a semi-audible voice there was an enthusiastic exclamation of · Bien, Monsieur; mais c'est