I started for school really tardily that forenoon and was in great apprehension of a chiding, particularly because M. Hamel had said that he would oppugn us on participials, and I did non cognize the first word about them. For a minute I thought of running off and passing the twenty-four hours out of doors. It was so warm, so bright! The birds were peeping at the border of the forests ; and in the unfastened field back of the sawmill the Prussian soldiers were boring. It was wholly much more alluring than the regulation for participials, but I had the strength to defy, and hurried off to school.
When I passed the town hall there was a crowd in forepart of the bulletin-board. For the last two old ages all our bad intelligence had come from there-the lost conflicts, the bill of exchange, the orders of the dominating officer-and I thought to myself, without fillet:
“ What can be the affair now? ”
Then, as I hurried by every bit fast as I could travel, the blacksmith, Wachter, who was at that place, with his learner, reading the bulletin, called after me:
“ Do n’t travel so fast, bub ; you ‘ll acquire to your school in plentifulness of clip! ”
I thought he was doing merriment of me, and reached M. Hamel ‘s small garden all out of breath.
Normally, when school began, there was a great hustle, which could be heard out in the street, the gap and shutting of desks, lessons repeated in unison, really loud, with our custodies over our ears to understand better, and the instructor ‘s great swayer knaping on the tabular array. But now it was all so still! I had counted on the disturbance to acquire to my desk without being seen ; but, of class, that twenty-four hours everything had to be every bit quiet as Sunday forenoon. Through the window I saw my schoolmates, already in their topographic points, and M. Hamel walking up and down with his awful Fe swayer under his arm. I had to open the door and travel in earlier everybody. You can conceive of how I blushed and how scared I was.
But nil happened. M. Hamel saw me and said really kindly:
“ Travel to your topographic point rapidly, small Franz. We were get downing without you. ”
I jumped over the bench and sat down at my desk. Not till so, when I had got a little over my fear, did I see that our instructor had on his beautiful green coat, his frilly shirt, and the small black silk cap, all embroidered, that he ne’er wore except on review and value yearss. Besides, the whole school seemed so unusual and grave. But the thing that surprised me most was to see, on the back benches that were ever empty, the small town people sitting softly like ourselves ; old Hauser, with his three-cornered chapeau, the former city manager, the former postmaster, and several others besides. Everybody looked sad ; and Hauser had brought an old primer, thumbed at the borders, and he held it open on his articulatio genuss with his great eyeglassess lying across the pages.
While I was inquiring about it all, M. Hamel mounted his chair, and, in the same grave and pacify tone which he had used to me, said:
“ My kids, this is the last lesson I shall give you. The order has come from Berlin to learn lone German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new maestro comes to-morrow. This is your last Gallic lesson. I want you to be really attentive. ”
What a thunderclap these words were to me!
Oh, the wretches ; that was what they had put up at the town-hall!
My last Gallic lesson! Why, I barely knew how to compose! I should ne’er larn any more! I must halt at that place, so! Oh, how regretful I was for non larning my lessons, for seeking birds ‘ eggs, or traveling skiding on the Saar! My books, that had seemed such a nuisance a piece ago, so heavy to transport, my grammar, and my history of the saints, were old friends now that I could n’t give up. And M. Hamel, excessively ; the thought that he was traveling off, that I should ne’er see him once more, made me bury all about his swayer and how cranky he was.
Poor adult male! It was in award of this last lesson that he had put on his all right Sunday apparels, and now I understood why the old work forces of the small town were sitting at that place in the dorsum of the room. It was because they were regretful, excessively, that they had non gone to school more. It was their manner of thanking our maestro for his 40 old ages of faithful service and of demoing their regard for the state that was theirs no more.
While I was believing of all this, I heard my name called. It was my bend to declaim. What would I non hold given to be able to state that awful regulation for the participial all through, really loud and clear, and without one error? But I got assorted up on the first words and stood at that place, keeping on to my desk, my bosom whipping, and non make bolding to look up. I heard M. Hamel say to me:
“ I wo n’t call on the carpet you, small Franz ; you must experience bad plenty. See how it is! Every twenty-four hours we have said to ourselves: ‘Bah! I ‘ve plentifulness of clip. I ‘ll larn it to-morrow. ‘ And now you see where we ‘ve come out. Ah, that ‘s the great problem with Alsace ; she puts off larning till to-morrow. Now those chaps out at that place will hold the right to state to you: ‘How is it ; you pretend to be Frenchmen, and yet you can neither speak nor compose your ain linguistic communication? ‘ But you are non the worst, hapless small Franz. We ‘ve all a great trade to upbraid ourselves with.
“ Your parents were non dying plenty to hold you learn. They preferred to set you to work on a farm or at the Millss, so as to hold a small more money. And I? I ‘ve been to fault besides. Have I non frequently sent you to H2O my flowers alternatively of larning your lessons? And when I wanted to travel fishing, did I non merely give you a vacation? ”
Then, from one thing to another, M. Hamel went on to speak of the Gallic linguistic communication, stating that it was the most beautiful linguistic communication in the world-the clearest, the most logical ; that we must guard it among us and ne’er bury it, because when a people are enslaved, every bit long as they hold fast to their linguistic communication it is as if they had the key to their prison. Then he opened a grammar and read us our lesson. I was amazed to see how good I understood it. All he said seemed so easy, so easy! I think, excessively, that I had ne’er listened so carefully, and that he had ne’er explained everything with so much forbearance. It seemed about as if the hapless adult male wanted to give us all he knew before traveling off, and to set it all into our caputs at one shot.
After the grammar, we had a lesson in composing. That twenty-four hours M. Hamel had new transcripts for us, written in a beautiful unit of ammunition manus: France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked similar small flags drifting everyplace in the school-room, hung from the rod at the top of our desks. You ought to hold seen how every one set to work, and how quiet it was! The lone sound was the scrape of the pens over the paper. Once some beetles flew in ; but cipher paid any attending to them, non even the littlest 1s, who worked right on following their fish-hooks, as if that was Gallic, excessively. On the roof the pigeons cooed really low, and I thought to myself:
“ Will they do them sing in German, even the pigeons? ”
Whenever I looked up from my composing I saw M. Hamel sitting motionless in his chair and staring foremost at one thing, so at another, as if he wanted to repair in his head merely how everything looked in that small school-room. Illusion! For 40 old ages he had been at that place in the same topographic point, with his garden outside the window and his category in forepart of him, merely like that. Merely the desks and benches had been worn smooth ; the walnut-trees in the garden were taller, and the hopvine that he had planted himself twined about the Windowss to the roof. How it must hold broken his bosom to go forth it all, hapless adult male ; to hear his sister traveling approximately in the room above, packing their short pantss! For they must go forth the state following twenty-four hours.
But he had the bravery to hear every lesson to the really last. After the authorship, we had a lesson in history, and so the babes chanted their Ba, be bi, bo, bu. Down at that place at the dorsum of the room old Hauser had put on his eyeglassess and, keeping his primer in both custodies, spelled the letters with them. You could see that he, excessively, was shouting ; his voice trembled with emotion, and it was so amusing to hear him that we all wanted to express joy and shout. Ah, how good I remember it, that last lesson!
All at one time the church-clock struck 12. Then the Angelus. At the same minute the huntsman’s horns of the Prussians, returning from drill, sounded under our Windowss. M. Hamel stood up, really pale, in his chair. I ne’er saw him look so tall.
“ My friends, ” said he, “ I-I- ” But something choked him. He could non travel on.
Then he turned to the chalkboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote every bit big as he could:
“ Vive La France! ”
Then he stopped and leaned his caput against the wall, and, without a word, he made a gesture to us with his manus:
“ School is dismissed-you may travel. ”