WE were in the preparation room* when the head came in, followed by a new boy in ordinary day clothes, and by a school servant carrying a large desk. Those of us who were asleep woke up, and we all rose to our feet doing our best to give the impression that we had been interrupted in the midst of our labours.
The head made a sign to us to be seated: then, turning to the master on duty:
'Monsieur Roger,' he said in a low voice, 'I am putting this boy in your charge. He will start in the fifth. Later, should his work and general conduct warrant promotion, he will be moved into the senior class where, at his age, he ought to be.'
The new boy had withdrawn so completely into the corner behind the door as to be scarcely visible. He was a country lad, about fifteen years of age, and a good deal taller than any of the rest of us. He wore his hair cut in a straight fringe on his forehead like a village choirboy. He looked solemn and very shy. Though he was not particularly broad in the shoulders, his green cloth jacket with its black buttons seemed to irk him uncomfortably under the arms, and a pair of red wrists, accustomed to exposure, showed through the openings in his cuffs. His legs, encased in blue stockings, emerged from yellowish trousers braced very high. On his feet he wore heavy, badly-polished shoes, studded with nails.
We began to recite our lessons. He listened with all his ears. So intent was he on what was being said that it might have been a sermon. He was far too frightened either to cross his legs or to lean on his elbow. When the bell sounded at two o'clock, the master had to tell him to fall in with the rest of us.
It was our custom on entering the classroom to throw our caps on the ground so as to leave our hands free. We used to stand at the door and fling them under the bench in such a way that they would strike the wall and raise a great cloud of dust. We regarded this as being the 'thing to do'.