The Spike or Victoria College Review 1947
Ecole Des Soeurs
Ecole Des Soeurs
She was waiting; continually her dark eyes sought the gates to the play-ground, while her foot shaped a useless pattern on the gravel. When the nun spoke to her she glanced up with an eye which was resentful and sullen.
'You, Arlette, must lead the altos, and make sure, you others, that you keep in time with her over the "vole, vole, vole".'
The girl nodded.
'Oui ma soeur.'
Then she glanced at the gate and back again. Taller than any of the other pupils, she had a poise which did not quite belong to the school-girl. She had southern beauty-dark skin, soft brown hair, and eyes that flickered in a brown lustre, moreover she was conscious of her beauty, and often her delicate fingers would stray to a curl that had escaped from under her broadbrimmed hat. But her maturity went no deeper than that, for she obeyed the black-gowned nun blindly, and when she moved, she moved as a child, loosely and diffidently.
'We'll try it again, then,' said the nun, and raising her hand in the air she gave them the first note of the song. It was barely finished when a small khaki van edged through the gate and rolled across the playground. Obviously the girl had only waited for this. The faint squeak of the brakes as the van paused at the gate had first drawn her attention; now she did not take her eyes away. As it rolled nearer, she examined the two men in the front seat, but, apparently unsatisfied, she searched the back, and when, after a moment or two, two men jumped down, she gave a scarcely audible sigh, and unwittingly, her left hand began to toy with a string of beads over her bodice.
The younger girls flocked round the van, gazing curiously at the large packing cases which held the recording unit of the nearby army base. The men in the unit had come to make a recording of the French children singing. With the van came the two officers of the unit, and two others, one a driver, and the other an interpreter, hardly more than a boy. The two officers climbed out and one commenced to open up the boxes containing the apparatus, while the other came up with the interpreter, who asked the nun in French if they could see the Sister Superior.
'Mais oui, attendez un moment,' she replied, tilting her white panama back wearily. Arlette, watch the children for a moment, while I go and get the Sister Superior.'
'Oui ma Soeur.'
The girl had never taken her eyes away from the young interpreter; she spoke meekly, but with a fulness of tone, which bespoke the volume of her emotions. The interpreter, happening to glance up, caught her eye and smiled swiftly. She blushed under her brown skin and turned away to her companions, who whispered, 'C'est lui, n'est-ce pas?' She said nothing. Her thoughts fled tumultuously back to her first meeting with Ronnie, as she called him, with the rolled 'r' which made the name like a charm.
Now the Sister Superior, an inwardly happy, girlish person, with silver-rimmed spectacles, came bustling up from another class, her black robes spurting in front, as her feet kicked beneath.
'Bon jour, Messieurs,'she said breathlessly.
'I hope that everything is ready. The girls have been practising for hours.'
'Merci, ma Soeur,' replied the interpreter politely. Turning to the mechanic, he asked:
'Sure, let them go,' the latter answered.
'But they'd better give it a trial run through first.'
Good, I'll ask them to try it now.' Turn- page 35 ing to the nun in charge of the class, he asked: ' Ma Soeur, do you think that you could try it through once, so that we could test the machine?'
'Bien sur, M'sieur,', said the nun. She raised her hand and the girls sang. Arlette sang with her eyes on the ground, but every few seconds she cast them up through the screen of her dark lashes, and looked longingly at the interpreter. He smiled briefly once or twice, and then feeling embarrassed, looked away. Finally, in distress, she kept her eyes fastened on the ground.
'C'est trés bien,' encouraged the nun when the trial was over. 'Sing as well as that next time and the record will be wonderful.' The Sister Superior smiled approvingly. She was very benign and lovable.
'Are they ready? 'whispered the officer in charge to the interpreter.
'Well, tell them to start when I lower my hand,' and he lifted his right hand in the air and looked at the stopwatch in the other. All those eager faces except one were turned to him, as the turn-table started revolving. Then the hand fell.
'Douce Calédonie, pays baigné d azur,' they sang, their lively faces concentrating on making the sounds, their eyes flickering to and fro among the men opposite them. Again Arlette sought the eyes of her lover, but their glances met only for a second and then his gaze passed on over the others.
The girl began to feel oppressed, even miserable. 'Why can't he look at me? He ought to smile, Oh darling, smile,' she thought, and to her it sounded as though she had spoken aloud. Now her lithe body was quivering with her longing and her misery. She moved from side to side, like a bow. She touched her hair, and her hand wandered over her dress. She felt like a spring which cannot release itself. Again and again her lover's eyes passed over her without expression.
That song finished and they commenced another with the same procedure. It was a delightful melody called 'L'Hanneton,'—Cockchafer,' and three girls, among them Arlette, sang as altos. On that white plateau of a playground it was a pure and lovely thing to hear the contrasting voices rising in the air like differently toned bells.
'Hannetoriy vole, vole, vole,
Va par çi, va par là,'
they sang, while Arlette kept her eyes lowered. 'Why doesn't he look at me?' she moaned.
They came to the end of the song, and the rapt faces changed and became curious and playful. The mechanician made a few adjustments, and then said to the interpreter:
'Tell them that we'll play it back.'
'Ma Soeur, we will play the record now, and you will see how well the children have sung.'
The Sister nodded excitedly, and explained to the children, and then composed herself to listen.
Down came the needle and the strains of the first song came floating back. The girls gaped for a moment in wonderment, and then collapsed in giggles.
'Ecoutez! Ecoutez!' they whispered. 'Listen!'
'Hanneton, vole, vole, vole,' they heard and even the nun was in fits of laughter, but it was suppressed in accordance with her position.
Arlette felt a sudden desire to giggle with the others, but could not, and the result was almost to cry. She saw the Sister Superior, so kind, so benign, laughing with the nun who had led the singing; she saw the other girls turning amongst themselves and giggling. She felt some of them nudge her. Once, furtively, she loked up at Ronald. He and the officer were laughing at the children.
'Va par çi, va par là.' ....
The giggles of the others echoed the song, but Arlette did not move. She was entranced like someone faced with sudden, overwhelming fear. Through her body had run a slight stir, the stir of creation. It had been ecstasy and it had been pain. Above all it was unknown. It left her void and waiting, but with a knowledge that filled her and overflowed, like one's arms in a fever. It made her blind. There was no happiness in her soul, no smile on her face. In her thoughts page 36 there was a painful confusion, for she knew that she was a mile above these giggling children, and yet simultaneously, she felt that they had all turned against her; even the face of the kindly Sister Superior had become a mask of iron which detested her. She wanted the song to end.