Cuore (Chapter 21)
Edmondo De Acimis
Garoffi was thoroughly terrified to-day, in the expectation of a severe punishment from the teacher; but the master did not make his appearance; and as the assistant was also missing, Signora Cromi, the oldest of the schoolmistresses, came to teach the school; she has two grown-up children, and she has taught several women to read and write, who now come to accompany their sons to the Baretti schoolhouse.
She was sad to-day, because one of her sons is ill. No sooner had they caught sight of her, than they began to make an uproar. But she said, in a slow and tranquil tone, “Respect my white hair; I am not only a school-teacher, I am also a mother”; and then no one dared to speak again, in spite of that brazen face of Franti, who contented himself with jeering at her on the sly.
Signora Delcati, my brother’s teacher, was sent to take charge of Signora Cromi’s class, and to Signora Delcati’s was sent the teacher who is called “the little nun,” because she always dresses in dark colors, with a black apron, and has a small white face, hair that is always smooth, very bright eyes, and a delicate voice, that seems to be forever murmuring prayers. And it is incomprehensible, my mother says; she is so gentle and timid, with that thread of a voice, which is always even, which is hardly audible, and she never speaks loud nor flies into a passion; but, nevertheless, she keeps the boys so quiet that you cannot hear them, and the most roguish bow their heads when she merely admonishes them with her finger, and her school seems like a church; and it is for this reason, also, that she is called “the little nun.”
But there is another one who pleases me,—the young mistress of the first lower, No. 3, that young girl with the rosy face, who has two pretty dimples in her cheeks, and who wears a large red feather on her little bonnet, and a small cross of yellow glass on her neck. She is always cheerful, and keeps her class cheerful; she is always calling out with that silvery voice of hers, which makes her seem to be singing, and tapping her little rod on the table, and clapping her hands to impose silence; then, when they come out of school, she runs after one and another like a child, to bring them back into line: she pulls up the cape of one, and buttons the coat of another, so that they may not take cold; she follows them even into the street, in order that they may not fall to quarrelling; she beseeches the parents not to whip them at home; she brings lozenges to those who have coughs; she lends her muff to those who are cold; and she is continually tormented by the smallest children, who caress her and demand kisses, and pull at her veil and her mantle; but she lets them do it, and kisses them all with a smile, and returns home all rumpled and with her throat all bare, panting and happy, with her beautiful dimples and her red feather. She is also the girls’ drawing-teacher, and she supports her mother and a brother by her own labor.