Sunday, 2 December 2012

The new pupil

"I can still remember this unusual being and all the strange treasures he brought along in the satchel he wore on his back.  At first, there were 'picture' penholders that he brought out to write dictation; if you closed one eye you could see a picture, through a peephole in the handle, blurred and magnified, of the Basilica at Lourdes or some unknown monument.  He chose one, and the others were quickly passed around.  Then there was a Chinese pencil box, fall of compasses and curious instruments, which travelled along the bench to the left, slipping silently and surreptitiously from hand to hand, under the exercise books, so that Monsieur Seurel wouldn't see.

Brand-new books also did the rounds, books the titles of which I had eagerly read on the spines of the few in our library:  La Teppe aux Merles,  La Roche aux Mouettes, Mon ami Benoist...  Some of us were leafing through these volumes on our knees whilst writing our dictation with the other hand.  We didn't know where they had come from: they might have been stolen.  Other pupils were turning the compasses round inside their desks, while still others, hastily, Monsieur Seurel's back being turned as he continued the dictation while walking from the desk to the window,  had one eye shut and the other fixed on the blue-green, speckled view of Notre-Dame de Paris.  Meanwhile, the new arrival, pen in hand, winking, with his fine profile outlined against the grey pillar, was enjoying all this furtive activity going on around him."

Le Grand Meaulnes  Alain-Fournier  (trans. Robin Buss)

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