Then he opened a grammar and read us our lesson. I was amazed to see how well I understood it. All he said seemed so easy, so easy! I think, too, that I had never listened so carefully, and that he had never explained everything with so much patience. It seemed almost as if the poor man wanted to give us all he knew before going away, and to put it all into our heads at one stroke.
After the grammar, we had a lesson in writing. That day M. Hamel had new copies for us, written in a beautiful round hand: France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school-room, hung from the rod at the top of our desks.
You ought to have seen how every one set to work, and how quiet it was! The only sound was the scratching of the pens over the paper. Once some beetles flew in; but nobody paid any attention to them, not even the littlest ones, who worked right on tracing their fish-hooks, as if that was French, too. On the roof the pigeo
Poor man! It was in honor of this last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes, and now I understood why the old men of the village were sitting there in the back of the room. It was because they were sorry, too, that they had not gone to school more. It was their way of thanking our master for his forty years of faithful service and of showing their respect for the country that was theirs no more.
While I was thinking of all this, I heard my name called. It was my turn to recite. What would I not have, given to be able to say that dreadful rule for the participle all through, very loud and clear, and without one mistake? But I got mixed up on the first words and stood there, holding on to my desk, my heart beating, and not daring to look up. I heard M. Hamel say to me:
“I won’t scold you, little Franz; you must feel bad enough. See how it is! Every day we have said to ourselves: ‘Bah! I’ve plenty of time. I’ll learn
I had counted on the commotion to get to my desk without being seen; but, of course, that day everything had to be as quiet as Sunday morning. Through the window I saw my classmates, already in their places, and M. Hamel walking up and down with his terrible iron ruler under his arm. I had to open the door and go in before everybody. You can imagine how I blushed and how frightened I was.
But nothing happened. M. Hamel saw me and said very kindly: “Go to your place quickly, little Franz. We were beginning without you.”
I jumped over the bench and sat down at my desk. Not till then, when I had got a little over my fright, did I see that our teacher had on his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt, and the little black silk cap, all embroidered, that he never wore except on inspection and prize days. Besides, the whole school seemed so strange and solemn.
But the thing that surprised me most was to see, on the back benches that were always empty, t
Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897)
Alphonse Daudet, one of the masters of the Naturalistic School of modern France, was bom at Nimes in 1840. He made his literary debut in 1858 with a volume of verse. He was both novelist and short story writer, but the Contes du Lundi and Lettres de mon Moulin are now read in preference to Sappho and Jack. The Tartarin books are perhaps an exception: they are little masterpieces of humour and observation. The Contes du Lundi (1873) contain some of Daudet’s most delicate and appealing stories. In The Last Lesson there is a spontaneity and feeling which is characteristic of all his best work.
The present version, anonymously translated, is reprinted from Great Short Stories, P. F. Collier Sons, New York, 1909. Copyright, 1909, by the Frank A. Munsey Co., by whose permission it is here used.
The Last Lesson
I started for school very late that morning and was in great dread of a scolding, especially because M. Ham