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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    One day, in the midday interval, he was informed that a visitor was asking for him in the parlour; the news filled him with delight, for he was very young and still counted on the possibilities of the unknown. In the parlour he found Monsieur Tudesco, wearing his waistcoat of ticking and holding a peaked hat in one hand.

    "My young friend," began the Italian, "I learned from your respected father's apprentice that you were confined in this sanctuary of studious learning. I venture to say your fortune is overcast with clouds, at least I fear it is. The lowliness of your estate is not gilded like that of the Latin poet, and you are struggling with a valiant heart against adverse fortune. That is why I am come to offer you the hand of friendship, and I venture to say you will regard as a mark of my amity and my esteem the request I proffer for a crown-piece, which I find needful to sustain an existence consecrated to learned studies."

    The parlour was filling with pupils and their friends and relations. Mothers and sons were exchanging sounding kisses, followed by exclamations of "How hot you are, dear!" and prolonged whisperings. Girls in light summer frocks were making sheep's eyes on the sly at their brothers' friends, while fathers were pulling cakes of chocolate out of their pockets.

    Monsieur Tudesco, entirely at his ease among these fine people, did not seem at all aware of the young usher's hideous embarrassment. To the latter's "Come outside; we can talk better there," the old man replied unconcernedly, "Oh, no, I don't think so."

    He welcomed each lady who came in with a profound bow, and distributed friendly taps on the cheek among the young aristocrats around him.

    Lying back in an arm-chair and displaying his famous waistcoat to the very best advantage, he enlarged on such episodes of his life as he thought most impressive:

    "The fates were vanquished," he was telling Servien, "my livelihood was assured. The landlord of an inn had entrusted his books to me, and under his roof I was devoting my attention to mathematical calculations, not, like the illustrious and ill-starred Galileo, to measure the stars, but to establish with exactitude the profits and losses of a trader. After two days' performance of these honourable duties, the Commissary of Police made a descent upon the inn, arrested the landlord and landlady and carried away my account books with him. No, I had not vanquished the fates!"

    Every head was turned, every eye directed in amazement towards this extraordinary personage. There was much whispering and some half-suppressed laughter. Jean, seeing himself the centre of mocking glances and looks of annoyance, drew Tudesco towards the door. But just as the Marquis was making a series of sweeping bows by way of farewell to the ladies, Jean found himself face to face with the Superintendent of Studies, who said to him:

    "Oh! Monsieur Servien, will you go and take detention in Monsieur Schuver's absence?"

    The Marquis pressed his young friend's hand, watched him depart to his duties, and then, turning back to the groups gathered in the parlour, he waved his hand with a gesture at once dignified and appealing to call for silence.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I have translated into the French tongue, which Brunetto Latini declared to be the most delectable of all, the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, the glorious masterpiece of the divine Torquato Tasso. This great work I wrote in a garret without fire, on candle wrappers, on snuff papers----"

    At this point, from one corner of the parlour, a crow of childish laughter went off like a rocket.

    Monsieur Tudesco stopped short and smiled, his hair flying, his eye moist, his arms thrown open as if to embrace and bless; then he resumed:

    "I say it: the laugh of innocence is the ill-starred veteran's joy. I see from where I stand groups worthy of Correggio's brush, and I say: Happy the families that meet together in peace in the heart of their fatherland! Ladies and gentlemen, pardon me if I hold out to you the casque of Belisarius. I am an old tree riven by the levin-bolt."

    And he went from group to group holding out his peaked felt hat, into which, amid an icy silence, fell coin by coin a dribble of small silver.

    But suddenly the Superintendent of Studies seized the hat and pushed the old man outside.

    "Give me back my hat," bawled Monsieur Tudesco to the Superintendent, who was doing his best to restore the coins to the donors; "give back the old man's hat, the hat of one who has grown grey in learned studies."

    The Superintendent, scarlet with rage, tossed the felt into the court, shouting:

    "Be off, or I will call the police."

    The Marquis Tudesco took to his heels with great agility.

    The same evening the new Assistant was summoned to the Director's presence and received his dismissal.

    "Unhappy boy! unhappy boy!" said the Abbé Bordier, beating his brow; "you have been the cause of an intolerable scandal, of a sort unheard of in this house, and that just when I had so much to do."

    And as he spoke, the scattered papers fluttered like white birds on the Director's table.

    Making his way through the parlour, Jean saw the _Mater dolorosa_ as before, and read again the names of Philippe-Guy Thiererche and the Countess Valentine.

    "I hate them," he muttered through clenched teeth, "I hate them all."

    Meantime, the good priest felt a stir of pity. Every day they had badgered him with reports against Jean Servien. This time he had given way; he had sacrificed the young usher; but he really could make nothing of this tale about a beggar. He changed his mind, ran to the door and called to the young man to corne back.

    Jean turned and faced him:

    "No!" he cried, "no! I can bear the life no longer; I am unhappy, I am full of misery--and hate."

    "Poor lad!" sight the Director, letting his arms drop by his side.

    That evening he did not write a single line of his Tragedy.
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