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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 23
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    The Superintendent, with his large, flat face and the sly ways of a peasant turned monk, was a constant thorn in Jean's side. "_Be firm, be firm, sir_," was his parable every day, and he never missed an opportunity of doing the usher an ill turn with the Director.

    The early days of Jean's servitude had slipped by in an enervating monotony. With his quiet ways, tactful temper and air of kindly aloofness, he was popular with the more sensible boys, while the others left him in peace, as he did them. But there was one exception; Henri de Grizolles, a handsome young savage, proud of his aristocratic name, which he scribbled in big letters on his light trousers, and overjoyed at the chance of hurting an inferior's feelings, had from the very first day declared war against the poor usher. He used to empty ink-bottles into his desk, stick cobbler's wax on his chair, and let off crackers in the middle of school.

    Hearing the disturbance, the Superintendent would march in with the airs of a Police Inspector and bid Jean: "_Be firm, sir! be firm!_"

    Far from taking his advice, Jean affected an excessive easiness of temper. One day he caught a boy in the act of drawing a caricature of himself; he picked it up and glanced at it, then handed it back to the artist with a shrug of the shoulders.

    Such mildness was misconstrued and only weakened his authority. The usher's miseries grew acute, and he lost the patience that alleviated his sufferings. He could not put up with the lads' restlessness, their happy laughter and light-hearted enjoyment of life. He showed temper, venting his spite on mere acts of thoughtlessness or simple ebullitions of high spirits. Then he would fall into a sort of torpor. He had long fits of absentmindedness, during which he was deaf to every noise. It became the fashion to keep birds, plait nets, shoot arrows, and crow like a cock in Monsieur Jean Servien's class-room. Even the boys from other divisions would slip out of their own classrooms to peep in at the windows of this one, about which such amazing stories were told, and the ceiling of which was decorated with little figures swinging at the end of a string stuck to the plaster with chewed paper.

    De Grizolles had installed a regular Roman catapult for shooting kidney-beans at the usher's head.

    Jean would drive the young gentleman out of the room. The Superintendent of Studies would reinstate him, only to be turned out again. And each time meant a fresh report to the Director. The Abbé Bordier, who never found patience to hear the worthy Superintendent out to the end, could only throw up his hands to heaven and declare they would be the death of him between them. But the impression became fixed in his mind that the Assistant in charge of the _Remove_ was a source of trouble.
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