Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandet” – updated

Grandet died as he had lived. Every morning during that slow death he had himself wheeled across his room to a place beside the window, whence he could keep his laptop in view; on the hard drive and in the cloud, no doubt, lay his hoarded spreadsheets of progress data. He sat there, passive and motionless; but if any one entered the room, he would glance uneasily at the new-comer, and then at
the laptop.  He roused from this apparent stupor at the proper hour on the days for
receiving data shots and targets, for arranging teacher interventions with under performing students and giving awards. Then he shifted his arm-chair round on its castors, until he faced the laptop, and his deputy was called upon to log on, and to input the little shots of progress data in neat columns, one after the other. He would watch her until it was all over and the computer was locked again; and as soon as she had returned the mouse to him, he would turn round noiselessly and take up his old position, putting the mouse in his waistcoat pocket, where he felt for it from time to time.

His old friend the assistant principal felt sure that it was only a question of time,  so he redoubled his attentions. He came every day to take Grandet’s instructions, went at his bidding to walking talking mocks, to twilight catch up sessions and one on one tutorials, and exchanged all assignments received for progress data, which was secretly sent to join the folders of spreadsheets stored up in the cabinet.

Then death came up close at last, and Grandet’s strong frame wrestled with the Destroyer. Even in those days he would sit as usual by the window, facing the laptop.

He used to finger the hard copies of spreadsheets that they held before him, and try to fold them, and say to his assistant, ‘Lock that up; lock that up, our system could crash…”

So long as he could open his eyes, where the last sparks of life seemed to linger, they used to turn at once to the laptop which gave access to all his spreadsheets , and he
would say to his deputy, in tones that seemed to thrill with a panic of fear :

‘Are they there still ?

‘Yes, sir.’

Keep watch over the data! . . . Let me see the data! Then Eugenie used to spread out hard copies of spreadsheets on a table before him, and he would sit for whole hours with his eyes fixed on the progress data in an unseeing stare, like that of a
child who begins to see for the first time; and sometimes a weak infantine smile, painful to see, would steal across his features.

‘That warms me!’ he muttered more than once, and his face expressed a perfect content.

When the data manger came to pay his respects, all the life seemed to have died out of Grandet’s eyes, but they lit up for the first time for many hours at the sight
of the checklists, the personalised targets and tracking and intervention sheets, all colour coded; he fixed his gaze on RAISE online, and the wen twitched for the last time.

As the head of governors held the intervention sheet above him that showed all pupils making expected progress towards their targets, he made a frightful effort to clutch it — a last effort which cost him his life. He called to his deputy, who saw nothing; she
was kneeling beside him, bathing in tears the hand that was growing cold already. ‘Give me your blessing,’ she entreated.

“Be very careful !” the last words came from him ;  one day you will render an account to me of everything here below……..’

 

 

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