The Professor HTML version

Chapter 11
I HAD indeed had a very long talk with the crafty little politician, and on regaining
my quarters, I found that dinner was half over. To be late at meals was against a
standing rule of the establishment, and had it been one of the Flemish ushers
who thus entered after the removal of the soup and the commencement of the
first course, M. Pelet would probably have greeted him with a public rebuke, and
would certainly have mulcted him both of soup and fish; as it was, that polite
though partial gentleman only shook his head, and as I took my place, unrolled
my napkin, and said my heretical grace to myself, he civilly despatched a servant
to the kitchen, to bring me a plate of "puree aux carottes" (for this was a maigre-
day), and before sending away the first course, reserved for me a portion of the
stock-fish of which it consisted. Dinner being over, the boys rushed out for their
evening play; Kint and Vandam (the two ushers) of course followed them. Poor
fellows! if they had not looked so very heavy, so very soulless, so very indifferent
to all things in heaven above or in the earth beneath, I could have pitied them
greatly for the obligation they were under to trail after those rough lads
everywhere and at all times; even as it was, I felt disposed to scout myself as a
privileged prig when I turned to ascend to my chamber, sure to find there, if not
enjoyment, at least liberty; but this evening (as had often happened before) I was
to be still farther distinguished.
"Eh bien, mauvais sujet!" said the voice of M. Pelet behind me, as I set my foot
on the first step of the stair, "ou allez-vous? Venez a la salle-a-manger, que je
vous gronde un peu."
"I beg pardon, monsieur," said I, as I followed him to his private sitting-room, "for
having returned so late--it was not my fault."
"That is just what I want to know," rejoined M. Pelet, as he ushered me into the
comfortable parlour with a good wood-fire --for the stove had now been removed
for the season. Having rung the bell he ordered "Coffee for two," and presently
he and I were seated, almost in English comfort, one on each side of the hearth,
a little round table between us, with a coffee-pot, a sugar-basin, and two large
white china cups. While M. Pelet employed himself in choosing a cigar from a
box, my thoughts reverted to the two outcast ushers, whose voices I could hear
even now crying hoarsely for order in the playground.
"C'est une grande responsabilite, que la surveillance," observed I.
"Plait-il?" dit M. Pelet.
I remarked that I thought Messieurs Vandam and Kint must sometimes be a little
fatigued with their labours.
"Des betes de somme,--des betes de somme," murmured scornfully the director.
Meantime I offered him his cup of coffee.
"Servez-vous mon garcon," said he blandly, when I had put a couple of huge
lumps of continental sugar into his cup. "And now tell me why you stayed so long