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Chapter 20
A COMPETENCY was what I wanted; a competency it was now my aim and
resolve to secure; but never had I been farther from the mark. With August the
school-year (l'annee scolaire) closed, the examinations concluded, the prizes
were adjudged, the schools dispersed, the gates of all colleges, the doors of all
pensionnats shut, not to be reopened till the beginning or middle of October. The
last day of August was at hand, and what was my position? Had I advanced a
step since the commencement of the past quarter? On the contrary, I had
receded one. By renouncing my engagement as English master in Mdlle.
Reuter's establishment, I had voluntarily cut off 20l. from my yearly income; I had
diminished my 60l. per annum to 40l., and even that sum I now held by a very
precarious tenure.
It is some time since I made any reference to M. Pelet. The moonlight walk is, I
think, the last incident recorded in this narrative where that gentleman cuts any
conspicuous figure: the fact is, since that event, a change had come over the
spirit of our intercourse. He, indeed, ignorant that the still hour, a cloudless moon,
and an open lattice, had revealed to me the secret of his selfish love and false
friendship, would have continued smooth and complaisant as ever; but I grew
spiny as a porcupine, and inflexible as a blackthorn cudgel; I never had a smile
for his raillery, never a moment for his society; his invitations to take coffee with
him in his parlour were invariably rejected, and very stiffly and sternly rejected
too; his jesting allusions to the directress (which he still continued) were heard
with a grim calm very different from the petulant pleasure they were formerly
wont to excite. For a long time Pelet bore with my frigid demeanour very
patiently; he even increased his attentions; but finding that even a cringing
politeness failed to thaw or move me, he at last altered too; in his turn he cooled;
his invitations ceased; his countenance became suspicious and overcast, and I
read in the perplexed yet brooding aspect of his brow, a constant examination
and comparison of premises, and an anxious endeavour to draw thence some
explanatory inference. Ere long, I fancy, he succeeded, for he was not without
penetration; perhaps, too, Mdlle. Zoraide might have aided him in the solution of
the enigma; at any rate I soon found that the uncertainty of doubt had vanished
from his manner; renouncing all pretence of friendship and cordiality, he adopted
a reserved, formal, but still scrupulously polite deportment. This was the point to
which I had wished to bring him, and I was now again comparatively at my ease.
I did not, it is true, like my position in his house; but being freed from the
annoyance of false professions and double-dealing I could endure it, especially
as no heroic sentiment of hatred or jealousy of the director distracted my
philosophical soul; he had not, I found, wounded me in a very tender point, the
wound was so soon and so radically healed, leaving only a sense of contempt for
the treacherous fashion in which it had been inflicted, and a lasting mistrust of
the hand which I had detected attempting to stab in the dark.
This state of things continued till about the middle of July, and then there was a
little change; Pelet came home one night, an hour after his usual time, in a state