The Professor HTML version

Chapter 8
AND Pelet himself? How did I continue to like him? Oh, extremely well! Nothing
could be more smooth, gentlemanlike, and even friendly, than his demeanour to
me. I had to endure from him neither cold neglect, irritating interference, nor
pretentious assumption of superiority. I fear, however, two poor, hard-worked
Belgian ushers in the establishment could not have said as much; to them the
director's manner was invariably dry, stern, and cool. I believe he perceived once
or twice that I was a little shocked at the difference he made between them and
me, and accounted for it by saying, with a quiet sarcastic smile--
"Ce ne sont que des Flamands--allez!"
And then he took his cigar gently from his lips and spat on the painted floor of the
room in which we were sitting. Flamands certainly they were, and both had the
true Flamand physiognomy, where intellectual inferiority is marked in lines none
can mistake; still they were men, and, in the main, honest men; and I could not
see why their being aboriginals of the flat, dull soil should serve as a pretext for
treating them with perpetual severity and contempt. This idea, of injustice
somewhat poisoned the pleasure I might otherwise have derived from Pelet's soft
affable manner to myself. Certainly it was agreeable, when the day's work was
over, to find one's employer an intelligent and cheerful companion; and if he was
sometimes a little sarcastic and sometimes a little too insinuating, and if I did
discover that his mildness was more a matter of appearance than of reality--if I
did occasionally suspect the existence of flint or steel under an external covering
of velvet--still we are none of us perfect; and weary as I was of the atmosphere of
brutality and insolence in which I had constantly lived at X----, I had no inclination
now, on casting anchor in calmer regions, to institute at once a prying search
after defects that were scrupulously withdrawn and carefully veiled from my view.
I was willing to take Pelet for what he seemed--to believe him benevolent and
friendly until some untoward event should prove him otherwise. He was not
married, and I soon perceived he had all a Frenchman's, all a Parisian's notions
about matrimony and women. I suspected a degree of laxity in his code of
morals, there was something so cold and blasé in his tone whenever he alluded
to what he called "le beau sexe;" but he was too gentlemanlike to intrude topics I
did not invite, and as he was really intelligent and really fond of intellectual
subjects of discourse, he and I always found enough to talk about, without
seeking themes in the mire. I hated his fashion of mentioning love; I abhorred,
from my soul, mere licentiousness. He felt the difference of our notions, and, by
mutual consent, we kept off ground debateable.
Pelet's house was kept and his kitchen managed by his mother, a real old
Frenchwoman; she had been handsome--at least she told me so, and I strove to
believe her; she was now ugly, as only continental old women can be; perhaps,
though, her style of dress made her look uglier than she really was. Indoors she
would go about without cap, her grey hair strangely dishevelled; then, when at
home, she seldom wore a gown--only a shabby cotton camisole; shoes, too,
were strangers to her feet, and in lieu of them she sported roomy slippers,