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Little by little the boys wearied of this insubordination, their imaginations proving unequal to the invention of any new forms of mischief. Even de Grizolles himself left off shooting beans. Instead, he conceived the notion of brewing chocolate inside his desk with a spirit-lamp and a silver patty-pan. Jean left him in peace and reopened his Sophocles with a sigh of relief. But the Superintendent, going by in the court, caught a smell of cooking, searched the desks and unearthed the patty-pan, which he offered, still warm, for the Reverend the Director's inspection, with the words: "There! that's what goes on in Monsieur Servien's class-room." The Director slapped his forehead, declared they would be the death of him and ordered the patty-pan to be restored to its owner. Then he sent for the Assistant in charge and administered a severe reprimand, because he believed it to be his bounden duty to do so.
The next day was a whole holiday, and Jean went to spend the day at his father's. The latter asked him if he was ready for his professorial examination.
"My lad," he adjured him, "be quick and find a good post if you want me to see you in it. One of these days your aunt and I will be going out at yonder door feet foremost. The old lady had a fit of dizziness last week on the stairs. _I_ am not ill, but I can feel I am worn out. I have done a hard life's work in the world."
He looked at his tools, and walked away, a bent old man!
Then Jean gathered up in both hands the old work-worn tools, all polished with use, scissors, punches, knives, folders, scrapers, and kissed them, the tears running down his cheeks.
At that moment his aunt came in, looking for her spectacles. Furtively, in a whisper, she asked him for a little money. In old days she used to save the halfpence to slip them into the "little lad's " hand; now, grown feebler than the child, she trembled at the idea of destitution; she hoarded, and asked charity of the priests. The fact is, her wits were weakening. Very often she would inform her brother that she did not mean to let the week pass without going to see the Brideaus. Now the Brideaus, jobbing tailors at Montrouge in their lifetime, had been dead, both husband and wife, for the last two years. Jean gave her a louis, which she took with a delight so ugly to see that the poor lad took refuge out of doors.
Presently, without quite knowing how, he found himself on the _Quai_ near the _Pont d'Iéna_. It was a bright day, but the gloomy walls of the houses and the grey look of the river banks seemed to proclaim that life is hard and cruel. Out in the stream a dredger, all drab with marl, was discharging one after the other its bucket-fuls of miry gravel. By the waterside a stout oaken crane was unloading millstones, wheeling backwards and forwards on its axis. Under the parapet, near the bridge, an old dame with a copper-red face sat knitting stockings as she waited for customers to buy her apple-puffs.
Jean Servien thought of his childhood; many a time had his aunt taken him to the same spot, many a time had they watched together the dredger hauling aboard, bucketful by bucketful, the muddy dregs of the river. Very often his aunt had stopped to exchange ideas with the old stallkeeper, while he examined the counter which was spread with a napkin, the carafe of liquorice-water that stood on it, and the lemon that served as stopper. Nothing was changed, neither the dredger, nor the rafts of timber, nor the old woman, nor the four ponderous stallions at either end of the _Pont d'Iéna_.
Yes, Jean Servien could hear the trees along the _Quai_, the waters of the river, the very stones of the parapet calling to him:
"We know you; you are the little boy his aunt, in a peasant's cap, used to bring here to see us in former days. But we shall never see your aunt again, nor her print shawl, nor her umbrella which she opened against the sun; for she is old now and does not take her nephew walks any more, for he is a grown man now. Yes, the child is grown into a man and has been hurt by life, while he was running after shadows."
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