Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Learning French

I have not one of those wonderfully good memories in books which can recall their second birthdays and their feelings on that occasion. Of my first years I have no distinct ideas. I remember a very cross nursery¬maid, Betsy ; a very good-natured one, Teresa ; a period of invalidums doses and going to bed ; one awful administration of a tumbler of castor oil, which was forced down my throat with the greatest difficulty ; and perpetual sparring with my sister Meriel, whom I called Missy, in common with herself and everyone else ; a triumphant victory over my propensity of thumb-sucking ; then later, some feeble French lessons with Mme Rollande, then a daily governess, during which I was very conscious of my great stupidity, and strangely enough wondered at her patience as we ploughed through a scrap of poetry, of which I only remember the first line ; " Si quelqu'un m'appelait un petit ange " ; I very clearly remember the vagueness of my ideas as to the meaning of this ; a nursery¬maid, Old Sarah, sharp with us, feared, but I fancy liked, and a sin I committed in stealing an apple out of her drawer—well I remember that ; how I hid behind the bed, but inconsiderately munched at the apple when she was in the room, and was immediately de¬tected ! dear me ! beginnings of naughtiness : pil¬ferings of the above-mentioned cold plum-pudding ; cutting off a front lock of my hair and saying Charles did it ; I am not sure, but I have a dim fancy that he said he did at last ; the punishment Mamma used to inflict upon us when we had been very naughty, taking us into Papa's room and putting our small tender hands under a thing for pressing letters together ; a bronze hand it was, which pinched us slightly, leaving the dents of the fingers on the back of one's hand. This was done very solemnly, Mamma shaking her head slowly at us all the time. I used to think that I should never lose the marks ; oh, the disgrace ! ...

I have not the dimmest recollection of learning to read, which I was hopelessly stupid over, but I do remember my contempt of it before I began it, and one single lesson out of " Rosamond," when I read the unfortunate chapter over and over during I believe the whole morning, because of a mistake I either could not or would not avoid. At last I did it right without knowing it. It began with the words, " Are you busy, Mamma ? " I was always doing things like this. I was not happy in Miss Nicholson's time. I was horribly naughty ; sly, obstinate, passionate, and very stupid. Then she managed me ill ; over-severe and apt to whip me for obstinacy when I was only dense, letting me see her partiality for the other two, and punishing too often. So I was always labouring under a sense of injustice, and felt myself injured innocence instead of trying properly to get the better of my faults.

A very naughty little French girl called Leonie, of ten years old, came at this time to teach us French, which she did very satisfactorily, but it was certainly the only good thing she did teach us. She was im¬pudent, dreadfully false, nasty in her ways and tricks, without the faintest idea of principle or religion. I perfectly remember her arrival ; the quick little shuffling French steps on the stairs, our shyness, and how when she came in Charles would only say a gruff " How d'ye do ? " instead of the " Bon jour " that had been instilled into him. He and I took refuge in the window, while Leonie, without a scrap of shyness in her, rattled out some long unintelligible story to Meriel.

She would steal Newmany's pomatum and smear it over her head, then cut up her ribbons and dizen herself out with them. The first English she learnt was " Cross Nurse " ; she made me teach it her, and went and said it repeatedly to Newmany. She used to stick her multiplication table on her nose, make me laugh, and when I was scolded and said that it was her fault, would put on a shocked look and exclaim innocently, " Lucie ! Comment pouvez-vous dire un tel mensonge ? " Then I was put between the doors. However, at length her naughtiness caused her to be put always to learn her lessons with her back to us all ; but this was certainly not favourable to her studies, for she gazed out of window the whole time. It was impossible to get anything serious into her head, though she had daily lessons from the Bible with Papa. Her levity and giddiness were dreadful. She was once sent to bed in the daytime for some misdeed, and went with the greatest effrontery to wish Mamma good night : " Bon soir, Madame ; je vais me coucher." She could learn fast enough when she chose, but choosing was a rare thing. After everything possible had been done to reform her she was sent away in despair, but Granny still looked after her, got her into a nice school, and gave her every advantage ; but no good was ever effected, and she had at last to return to her father. We have now lost sight of her.

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