I was very late for school that morning, and I was terribly afraid of being scolded[责骂], especially as Monsieur[法语:先生] Hamel had told us that he should examine us on participles[分词], and I did not know the first thing about them. For a moment I thought of staying away from school and wandering about the fields. It was such a warm, lovely day. I could hear the blackbirds whistling on the edge of the wood, and in the Rippert field, behind the sawmill[锯木厂], the Prussians going through their drill. All that was much more tempting to me than the rules concerning participles; but I had the strength to resist, and I ran as fast as I could to school.
As I passed the mayor's office, I saw that there were people gathered about the little board on which notices were posted. For two years all our bad news had come from that board—battles lost, conscriptions[征兵], orders from headquarters; and I thought without stopping:
"What can it be now?"
Then, as I ran across the square, Wachter the blacksmith, who stood there with his apprentice[学徒], reading the placard[布告], called out to me:
"Don't hurry so, my boy; you'll get to your school soon enough!"
I thought that he was making fun of me, and I ran into Monsieur Hamel's little yard all out of breath.
Usually, at the beginning of school, there was a great uproar[喧嚣] which could be heard in the street, desks opening and closing, lessons repeated aloud in unison[一致], with our ears stuffed in order to learn quicker, and the teacher's stout ruler beating on the desk:
"A little more quiet!"
I counted on all this noise to reach my bench unnoticed; but as it happened, that day everything was quiet, like a Sunday morning. Through the open window I saw my comrades already in their places, and Monsieur Hamel walking back and forth[向前] with the terrible iron ruler under his arm. I had no open the door and enter, in the midst of that perfect silence. You can imagine whether I blushed[羞愧] and whether I was afraid!
But no! Monsieur Hamel looked at me with no sign of anger and said very gently:
"Go at once to your seat, my little Frantz; we were going to begin without you."
I stepped over the bench and sat down at once at my desk. Not until then, when I had partly recovered from my fright, did I notice that our teacher had on his handsome blue coat, his plaited ruff, and the black silk embroidered breeches, which he wore only on days of inspection or of distribution of prizes. Moreover, there was something extraordinary, something solemn about the whole class. But what surprised me most was to see at the back of the room, on the benches which were usually empty, some people from the village sitting, as silent as we were: old Hauser with his three-cornered hat, the ex-mayor, the ex-postman, and others besides. They all seemed depressed; and Hauser had brought an old spelling-book with gnawed edges, which he held wide-open on his knee, with his great spectacles askew.
While I was wondering at all this, Monsieur Hamel had mounted his platform, and in the same gentle and serious voice with which he had welcomed me, he said to us:
"My children, this is the last time that I shall teach you. Orders have come from Berlin to teach nothing but German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new teacher arrives to-morrow. This is the last class in French, so I beg you to be very attentive."
Those few words overwhelmed me. Ah! the villains! that was what they had posted at the mayor's office.
My last class in French!
And I barely knew how to write! So I should never learn! I must stop short where I was! How angry I was with myself because of the time I had wasted, the lessons I had missed, running about after nests, or sliding on the Saar! My books, which only a moment before I thought so tiresome, so heavy to carry—my grammar, my sacred history—seemed to me now like old friends, from whom I should be terribly grieved to part. And it was the same about Monsieur Hamel. The thought that he was going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget the punishments, the blows with the ruler.
Poor man! It was in honour of that last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes; and I understood now why those old fellows from the village were sitting at the end of the room. It seemed to mean that they regretted not having come oftener to the school. It was also a way of thanking our teacher for his forty years of faithful service, and of paying their respects to the fatherland which was vanishing.
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