These nightly drawing sessions held a secret charm for me, so that now I could not forgo the opportunity of looking for a moment into the art room. I decided, however, that I would not stop for more than a little while. But walking up the back stairs, their ceder wood resounding under my steps, I realized that I was in a wing of the school building completely unknown to me.
Not even a murmur interrupted the solemn silence. The passages were broader in this wing, covered with a thick carpet and most elegant. Small, darkly glowing lamps were hung at each corner. Turning the first of these, I found myself in an even wider, more sumptuous hall. In one of its walls there was a wide glass arcade leading to the interior of an apartment. I could see a long enfilade of rooms, furnished with great magnificence. The eye wandered over silk hangings, gilded mirrors, costly furniture, and crystal chandeliers and into the velvety softness of the luxurious interiors, shimmering with lights, entangled garlands, and budding flowers. The profound stillness of these empty rooms was filled with the secret glances exchanged by mirrors and the panic of friezes running high along the walls and disappearing into the stucco of the high ceilings.
I faced all that magnificence with admiration and awe, guessing that my nightly escapade had brought me to the headmaster’s wing, to his private apartment. I stood there with a beating heart, rooted to the spot by curiosity, ready to escape at the slightest noise. How would I justify, if surprised, that nocturnal visit, that impudent prying? In one of those deep plush armchairs there might sit, unobserved and still, the young daughter of the headmaster. She might lift her eyes to mine—black, sibylline, quiet eyes, the gaze of which none could hold. But to retreat halfway, not having carried through the plan I had, would be cowardly. Besides, deep silence reigned in those magnificent interiors, lit by the hazy light of an undefined hour. Through the arcades of the passage, I saw on the far side of the living room a large glass door leading to the terrace. It was so still everywhere that I suddenly felt emboldened. It did not strike me as too risky to walk down the short steps leading to the level of the living room, to take a few quick steps across the large, costly carpet and to find myself on the terrace from which I could get back without any difficulty to the familiar street.
This is what I did. When I found myself on the parquet floor under the potted palms that reached up to the frieze of the ceiling, I noticed that now I really was on neutral ground, because the living room did not have a front wall. It was a kind of large loggia connected by a few steps with a city square, an enclosed part of the square, because some of the garden furniture stood directly on the pavement. I ran down the short flight of stone steps and found myself at street level once more.
The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories