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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
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    Jean was called up for examination, but with his insufficient preparation he got hopelessly fogged in the intricacies of a difficult, tricky piece of dictation and sums that were too long to be worked in the time allowed the candidates. He came home in despair. His father tried in his good-nature to reassure him. But a fortnight after came an unstamped letter summoning him to the Ministry, and after a three hours' wait he was shown into Monsieur Bargemont's private room. He recognized his own dictation in the big man's hand.

    "I am sorry," the functionary began, "to inform you that you have entirely failed to pass the tests set you. You do not know the language of your own country, sir; you write _Maisons-Lafitte_ without an 's' to _Maisons_. You cannot spell! and what is more, you do not cross your 't's.' You _must_ know at your age that a 't' ought to be crossed. It's past understanding, sir!"

    And striking fiercely at the sheet of foolscap on which the mistakes were marked in red ink, he kept muttering: "It's past understanding, past understanding!" His face grew purple, and a swollen vein stood out on his forehead. A queer look in Jean's face gave him pause:

    "Young man," he resumed in a calmer voice, "whatever I can do for you, I will do, be sure of that; but you must not ask me to do impossibilities. We cannot enlist in the service of the State young men who spell so badly they write _Maisons-Lafitte_ without an 's' to the _Maisons_. It is in a way a patriotic duty for a Frenchman to know his own language. A year hence, the Ministry will hold another examination, and I will enter your name. You have a year before you; work hard, sir, and learn your mother-tongue."

    Jean stood there scarlet with rage, hate in his heart, his eyes aflame, his throat dry, his teeth clenched, unable to articulate a word; then he swung round like an automaton and darted from the room, banging the door after him with a noise of thunder; piles of books and papers rolled on to the floor of the Chief's office at the shock.

    Monsieur Bargemont was left alone to digest his stupefaction; even so his first thought was to save the honour of his Department. He reopened the door and shouted, "Leave the room!" after Jean, who, mastered once more by his natural timidity, was flying like a thief down the corridors.
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