Boarding School Blues: Chapter 47
By Louise Peloquin
Ch. 47 “Smile upon our joys”
The freshmen had to sit through two hours of classes before inspecting the honor roll boards during Sister Roger’s phys ed. Latin declension drills followed by War of 1812 highlights bored Blanche. It was too early to get psyched for a new go at making the cut. Her mixed emotions curdled – joy for Titi and C clashed with envy about Andy. Was skipping gym possible? “I can tell Sister Roger I’m getting a migraine and have to put my head down on a desk before I feel like throwing up. That’s an honest-to-goodness excuse. I can’t take any lip from Andy today. Can’t wait to go home. Two days left. Right now I gotta write down battle dates to make the teacher think I’m interested. I’ll memorize ‘em during vacation and, who knows, maybe next term I’ll get on the honor roll for history! I shoulda taken more notes in Latin but everything’s in the book so I’ll just make flash cards and learn that by heart too.”
No sooner had Blanche begun taking notes that history was over and everyone proceeded to the gym. She avoided eye contact and remained focused on her feet. The pine needles no longer stuck to her right shoe but the spot they had occupied was now white with sap and covered by a film of gossamer dust. Blanche thought “It’s bad enough that these school shoes are ugly but I really hate when they collect dust bunnies, unless, of course, they come from Monsieur Dubé’s old books.”
Just thinking about the library, Sister Claudette, her papyrus and the old post card of the Trinity College “long room” switched her mood. She no longer dread discussing with her pals. “If I can face the headmistress I can face anyone. I’m a warrior. Come on Andy, shoot your mouth off as much as you want. I got nothin’ to say about the honor roll ‘xcept ‘congrats’ you guys, good job. I’ll be on it next time.”
The girls trooped silently into the gym two by two. Ever upbeat, Sister Roger greeted them with her juvenile smile. “Girls, I know you are curious about the honor roll so we’ll adjust our class today. You may examine the boards as long as you like but afterwards do some kind of exercise be it shooting hoops, jogging around, calisthenics. You can take out the dumbbells and hula hoops too. Keep your indoor voices at all times. OK girls, begin.”
Andy quipped “begin what? We’re not doin’ anything in particular she said so what’s there to begin?” She turned to her three best buddies and chuckled. “Guys, I can’t wait to hear that sophomore Alice Patenaude singing songs from Offenbach’s ‘Contes d’Hoffmann’? Betcha a millions bucks the headmistress ain’t got a clue to about those lovey-dovey French songs.”
Titi interrupted. “How do you even know what’s in ‘em? And what do we care anyway. Let’s go take a look at the honor roll. Can’t wait to see why we’re on. Hey C, way to go for the dissection award! I knew you did a better job on that old frog than I did cuz you didn’t even rip the skin or puncture the intestines. If your Mom doesn’t see you as a future nurse now, she’s blind. And congrats to you too Andy. But honestly, I wonder how you pulled that off cuz we all know you’re not the most studious kid on the block. And PF, you’ll…”
Blanche shot her friend a look which screamed ‘shut up right now.’ A half dozen girls blocked the view of the boards. Blanche was determined to hold her tongue and stared ahead while Andy suddenly broke out in song.
“Lovely night, oh night of love
Smile upon our joys! (1)
Blanche recognised a tune Papa had sung in the kitchen one evening while helping Maman with the dishes, a romantic melody enhanced by his honey-rich baritone. She remembered how it had made her mother blush and had to ask Andy about it.
“What’s that song Andy. I’ve heard it before.” Blanche felt weird. The music had wiped away the corrosive jealousy she had felt towards her friend.
It’s the ‘Contes d’Hoffmann’ barcarolle. I learned it cuz my jack-of-all-trades Pop accompanied some singer on the piano for a recital one night. I tagged along and the melody stuck to my head. Obviously, the headmistress didn’t even look at the lyrics. Probably thought it was just fine and dandy since Offenbach was a French composer and all. What a hoot! She doesn’t even know what she gave Alice. She’s sure in for a surprise.” Andy’s laugh wasn’t the same high trill as Titi’s but its heartiness was just as deliciously infectious. Titi and C smiled and looked at Blanche who urged Andy to continue. “I didn’t know you had such a nice voice Andy. Go on.”
The four friends listened to the rest of the bacarolle.
Give us your kisses!
Your kisses! Your kisses!
Lovely night, oh night of love….(2)
The girls were still waiting to edge up to the boards. Impatience didn’t dampen their mood. The music had cast its spell and gave Titi a few bright ideas.
“Boy oh boy Andy, I gotta learn that song in the next coupla days. Never know when it’ll come in handy. Guys like love songs too don’t they? And that one gets right to the point as far as smooching goes. Hey Andy, maybe next time you’ll get a special prize for singing, just like Alice Patenaude. You should learn the French version and sing it for the headmistress. Hi, hi, hi, hi!”
Andy chuckled. “Gimme a break Titi. I’m no singer. But the melody is pretty.”
C was impatient to see the honor roll boards. “OK, we can squeeze up and take a look now. I wanna see everything even if I’m not on it.”
“But C” Blanche blurted, “the headmistress recognized your dissection skills in front of the whole school and that’s a huge deal. You’re the one and only freshman to get a special prize! You can’t imagine how proud I am of you my friend.”
The others joined in and Titi suggested “let’s give C a big hug to show our future nurse how much we love her.” The three encircled C, squeezing her hard.
A couple of seconds later, the foursome was peering at the boards.
“Titi stated “I don’t care about the other lists. I only wanna check out our own class.” As soon as she found “Yvette Lafleur” she screamed “I’m on for math! Can you imagine? I was usually bored in class but sometimes it was kinda cool. Man oh man! Hey PF, I think helping you with linear equations made me remember the stuff. Wow! I’m proud if I do say so myself.”
Blanche congratulated her friend. “Yeah Titi, your explanations made me get it way more than anything the teacher said. And it’s a known fact that explaining something to someone helps you remember. I’m proud of you. Way to go Titi. Maybe you’ll be a math teacher when you grow up right?”
“No way José” Titi answered. “But Andy, what are you on for?”
Andy looked sheepish when she replied “art.” She added “I didn’t think doodling would lead to the honor roll.”
Sister Roger, who had been passing out dumbbells, joined the conversation. “Andrea, didn’t you know? Your nativity scene sketch was chosen by Sister Théophile as SFA’s official 1965 Christmas card. It has been sent to the printer for duplication. The headmistress insisted that you be on the honor roll for this exquisite work. Congratulations ma fille. Well done.” At that, the gym teacher walked away to initiate a basketball game.
“Boy Andy, you’re gonna get an international reputation as an artist” gushed C.
Blanche quipped “Hang on C. It’d have to be regional then national. Things don’t happen quite so fast you know.” She immediately curtailed a mordant tone to add “I’m proud of you too Andy. Your Christmas card is really beautiful, just simple pencil strokes to set the Noël scene. I’ll never be able to draw like that. You got a gift.” Blanche hadn’t intended to gush but the words had flown out of her mouth like birds let loose from a cage. Envy had burnt off like mist in the morning sun and made her think “I guess I’m gonna stick to this gang. ‘One for all and all for one’ even in the pain-in-the-neck times.”
Andy looked surprised at Blanche’s compliment. “Thanks PF but I don’t think I deserve the honor roll cuz I’ve been such a bigmouth. And I want you to know I won’t ask for your class notes anymore. You’re right. I gotta focus and get my brain wrapped around stuff even if I automatically think it’ll be boring as hell. I gotta… Well, you know what I mean. But it’s totally unfair that you’re not on the honor roll, as least for French or something. It wasn’t your fault that your father got sick and who could possibly concentrate on school stuff after hearing such awful news? These punishments are totally unfair and…”
Blanche interrupted her friend. “Doesn’t matter Andy. Anyway, only two days left until vacation and I can’t wait. And library duty with Sister Claudette wasn’t bad so…”
Titi asked “yeah, why did Sister Claudette pull you aside as we were leaving the reception hall? Did ya steal a book or something? Did ya leave a speck of dust on the shelves?” The familiar riff of giggles punctuated her questions.
Blanche wanted to keep the Egyptian papyrus as secret as the details of her so-called ‘recreation deprivation.’ Sharing would turn everything ordinary. The library experience had been magical and bringing it to mind would delight her for years to come. She brushed off Titi’s questions with a “oh nothin’, you know, she just said I did an OK job. No biggie, nothin’ to write home about.”
C blurted “Well PF, next time you’re with Sister Claudette, can you ask if she has any other books with illustrations of wounded soldiers like the one that junior Yolande Lavoie got? Tell her I need to get used to seeing that stuff if I want to be a cool, calm and collected nurse who keeps it together when horrible things happen. Will you do that for me please?”
Before Blanche could respond, Andy raised her voice. “Hey guys, if Sister Théophile distributes my drawing as the official Christmas card don’t you think I should have a cut in the deal? It’s my personal work after all, right? She could have asked permission. Does that mean everything we do around here belongs to SFA? Is that even legal? If I’m a minor she could at least inform my parents and they could get a discount on tuition or something. I don’t think it’s so cool to be on the honor roll after all. I’m gonna say something to that headmistress. Not only does she punish my best buddy and prevent her from being on the stupid honor roll but she steals my art work. It ain’t right!”
Titi tried to extinguish the fire. “Just talk to your parents Andy. They’ll be really proud. And I doubt SFA will be cashing in on your card. It’ll just be an example of good work and maybe it’ll attract future students. Anyway, making waves’ll boomerang on you. Stop while you’re ahead in the game kiddo. That’s my advice. Now let’s pretend we’re doing phys ed so Sister Roger doesn’t bother us. Pick up a couple of dumbbells and make believe we’re exercising together. Here we go! And lift and a one and a two and…”
1) Translation of the original French: ”Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour
Souris à nos ivresses”
2) Translation of the original French: “Zéphyrs embrasés!
Donnez-nous vos baisers!
Vos baisers! Vos baisers!
Read Chapter 3: Readying
Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!
Read Chapter 5: Arrival
Read Chapter 6: Settling In
Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong
Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers
Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall
Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres
Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles
Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights
Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting
Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold
Read Chapter 15: In the Night
Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?
Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda
Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up
Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment
Read Chapter 20: Orderliness
Read Chapter 21: Inspection
Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum
Read Chapter 23: Going Home
Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle
Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy
Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!
Read Chapter 27: Friends
Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop
Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit
Read Chapter 30: The Chapel
Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird
Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device
Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille
Read Chapter 34: Run along now
Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky
Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes
Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much
Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies
Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good
Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring
Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”
Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it”
Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”
Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels
Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth
Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra