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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    The Marquis Tudesco returned in due course, smiled at Mademoiselle Servien, who darted poisonous looks at him, greeted the bookbinder with a discreet air of patronage, and had a supply of grammars and dictionaries bought.

    At first he gave his lessons with exemplary regularity. He had taken a liking to these repetitions of nouns and verbs, which he listened to with a dignified, condescending air, slowly unrolling his screw of snuff the while; he only interrupted to interject little playful remarks with a geniality just touched with a trace of ferocity, that bespoke his real nature as an unctuous, cringing bully. He was jocular and pompous at the same time, and always made a pretence of being a long time in seeing the glass of wine put on the table for his refreshment.

    The bookbinder, regarding him as a clever man of ill-regulated life, always treated him with great consideration, for faults of behaviour almost cease to shock us except among neighbours, or at most fellow-countrymen. Without knowing it, Jean found a fund of amusement in the witticisms and harangues of his old teacher, who united in himself the contradictory attributes of high-priest and buffoon. He was great at telling a story, and though his tales were beyond the child's intelligence, they did not fail to leave behind a confused impression of recklessness, irony, and cynicism. Mademoiselle Servien alone never relaxed her attitude of uncompromising dislike and disdain. She said nothing against him, but her face was a rigid mask of disapproval, her eyes two flames of fire, in answer to the courteous greeting the tutor never failed to offer her with a special roll of his little grey eyes.

    One day the Marquis Tudesco walked into the shop with a staggering gait; his eyes glittered and his mouth hung half open in anticipation of racy talk and self-indulgence, while his great nose, his pink cheeks, his fat, loose hands and his big belly, gallantly carried, gave him, beneath his jacket and felt hat, a perfect likeness to a little rustic god his ancestors worshipped, the old Silenus.

    Lessons that day were fitful and haphazard. Jean was repeating in a drawling voice: _moneo, mones, monet ... monebam, monebas, monebat..._ Suddenly Monsieur Tudesco sprang forward, dragging his chair along the floor with a horrid screech, and clapping his hand on his pupil's shoulder:

    "Child," he said, "to-day I am going to give you a more profitable lesson than all the pitiful teaching I have confined myself to up to now.

    "It is a lesson of transcendental philosophy. Hearken carefully, child. If one day you rise above your station and come to know yourself and the world about you, you will discover this, that men act only out of regard for the opinion of their fellows--and _per Bacco!_ they are consummate fools for their pains. They dread other folks' blame and crave their approval.

    "The idiots fail to see that the world does not care a straw for them, and that their dearest friends will see them glorified or disgraced without missing one mouthful of their dinner. This is my lesson, _caro figliuolo_, that the world's opinion is not worth the sacrifice of a single one of our desires. If you get this into your pate, you will be a strong man and can boast you were once the pupil of the Marquis Tudesco, of Venice, the exile who has translated in a freezing garret, on scraps of refuse paper, the immortal poem of Torquato Tasso. What a task!"

    The child listened to the tipsy philosopher without understanding one word of his rigmarole; only Monsieur Tudesco struck him as a strange and alarming personage, and taller by a hundred feet than anybody he had ever seen before.

    The professor warmed to his subject:

    "Ah!" he cried, springing from his seat, "and what profit did the immortal and ill-starred Torquato Tasso win from all his genius? A few stolen kisses on the steps of a palace. And he died of famine in a madhouse. I say it: the world's opinion, that empress of humankind, I will tear from her her crown and sceptre. Opinion tyrannizes over unhappy Italy, as over all the earth. Italy! what flaming sword will one day come to break her fetters, as now I break this chair?"

    In fact, he had seized his chair by the back and was pounding it fiercely on the floor.

    But suddenly he stopped, gave a knowing smile, and said in a low voice:

    "No, no, Marquis Tudesco, let be, let Venice be a prey to Teuton savagery. The fetters of the fatherland are daily bread to the exiled patriot."

    His chin buried in his cravat, he stood chuckling to himself, and his red waistcoat rose and fell in jerks.

    Mademoiselle Servien, who sat by at the lesson knitting a stocking and for some moments had been watching the tutor, her spectacles pushed half-way up her forehead, with a look of amazement and suspicion, exclaimed, as if talking to herself:

    "If it isn't abominable to come to people's houses in drink!"

    Monsieur Tudesco did not seem to hear her. His manner was quiet and jocular again.

    "Child," he ordered, "write down the theme for an essay. Write down: 'The worst thing... yes, the worst thing of all,' write it down... 'is an old woman with a spiteful temper.'"

    And rising with the gracious dignity of a Prince of the Church, he bowed low to the aunt, gave the nephew's cheek a friendly tap, and marched out of the room.

    However, beginning with the very next lesson, he lavished every mark of respect on the old lady, and treated her to all his choicest airs and graces, rounding his elbows, pursing his lips, strutting and swaggering. She would not relax a muscle, and sat there as silent and sulky as an owl.

    But one day when she was hunting for her spectacles, as she was always doing, Monsieur Tudesco offered her his and persuaded her to try them; she found they suited her sight and felt a trifle less unamiable towards him. The Italian, pursuing his advantage, got into talk with her, and artfully turned the conversation upon the vices of the rich. The old lady approved his sentiments, and an exchange of petty confidences ensued. Tudesco knew a sovereign remedy for catarrh, and this too was well received. He redoubled his attentions, and the _concierge_, who saw him smiling to himself on the doorstep, told Aunt Servien: "The man's in love with you." Of course she declared: "At my time of life a woman doesn't want lovers," but her vanity was tickled all the same. Monsieur Tudesco got what he wanted--to have his glass filled to the brim every lesson. Out of politeness they would even leave him the pint jug only half empty, which he was indiscreet enough to drain dry.

    One day he asked for a taste of cheese--"just enough to make a mouse's dinner," was his expression. "Mice are like me, they love the dark and a quiet life and books; and like me they live on crumbs."

    This pose of the wise man fallen on evil days made a bad impression, and the old lady became silent and sombre as before.

    When springtime came Monsieur Tudesco vanished.
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