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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    Three months had dragged by. It was a Friday; a hot, nauseating smell of fried fish filled the refectory; a strong drought blew cold about feet encased in wet boots; the walls dripped with moisture, and outside the barred windows a fine rain was falling from a grey sky. The boys, seated at marble-topped tables, were making a hideous rattle with their forks and tin cups, while one of their schoolfellows, seated at the desk in the middle of the great room, was reading aloud, as the regulations direct, a passage from Rollin's _Ancient History_.

    Jean, at the head of a table, his nose in his ill-washed earthenware plate, had cold feet and a sore heart. Something resembling rotten wood formed a deposit at the bottom of his glass, while the servers were handing round dishes of prunes with their thumbs washing in the juice. Now and again, amid the rattle of plates, the rasping voice of the reader, a lad of seventeen, reached the usher's ears. He caught the name of Cleopatra and some scraps of sentences: "_She was about to appear before Antony at an age when women unite with the flower of their beauty every charm of wit and intellect... her person more compelling than any magnificence of adornment.... Her galley entered the Cydnus... the poop of the vessel shone resplendent with gold, the sails were of Tyrian purple, the oars of silver._"

    Then the seductive names of _Nereids, flutes, perfumes_. The hot blood flooded his cheeks. The woman who for him was the sole and only incarnation of the whole race of womankind throughout the ages rose before his mental sight with a surprising clearness; every hair of his body stood on end in an agonizing spasm of desire, and he dug his nails into the palms of his hands. The vision caused him an unspeakable yet delicious pain--Gabrielle in a loose _peignoir_ at a small, daintily ordered table gay with flowers and glasses. He saw it all quite clearly; his gaze searched every fold of the soft material that covered her bosom and rose and fell at each breath she drew. Face and neck and lively hands had a surprisingly brilliant yet so natural a sheen that they exhaled amorous invitation as if they had been verily of flesh and blood. The superb moulding of the lips, pouting like a ripe mulberry, and the exquisite grain of the skin were manifest--treasures such as men risk death and crime to win. It was the actress, in fine, seen by the two eyes which of all eyes in the whole world had learned to see her best. She was not alone; a man was looking at her with a penetrating intensity as he filled her glass. They were straining one towards the other. Jean could not restrain his sobs. Suddenly he seemed to be falling from the top of a high tower. The Superintendent of Studies was standing in front of him and saying:

    "Monsieur Servien, will you see about punishing that boy Laboriette, who is emptying his leavings in his neighbour's pocket?"
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