Read A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON VIII of The Aspirations of Jean Servien, free online book, by Anatole France, on ReadCentral.com.

Next morning he awoke feeling sour-tempered and low-spirited.

“Well, my boy,” his father asked him, blowing noisily at each spoonful of soup he absorbed, “well, did you enjoy yourself yesterday?”

He answered curtly and crossly.  Everything stirred his gorge.  His aunt’s print gown filled him with a sort of rage.

His father propounded a hundred minute inquiries; he would fain have pictured the whole expedition to himself as he consumed his bowl of soup.  He had seen Saint-Cloud in his soldiering days; but he had never been there since.  He had a bright idea; they would go to Versailles, the three of them; his sister would see to having a bit of veal cooked overnight, and they could take it with them.  They would have a look at the pictures, eat their snack on the great lawn, and have a fine time generally.

Jean, who was horrified at the whole project, opened his exercise-books and buried his head in his lessons, to avoid the necessity of hearing any more and answering questions.  He did not as a rule show such alacrity about setting to work.  His father remarked on the fact, commending him for his zeal.

“We should play,” he announced, “when it is play-time, and work when it is the time to work,” and he set to work flattening a piece of shagreen.

Jean fell into a brown study.  He had caught a glimpse of a world he knew to be for ever closed against him, but towards which all the forces of his young heart drew him irresistibly.  He did not dream Madame Ewans could ever be different from what he had seen her.  He could not imagine her otherwise dressed or amid any other surroundings.  He knew nothing whatever of women; this one had seemed motherly to him, and it was a mother such as Madame Ewans he would have liked to have.  But how his heart beat and his brow burned as he pictured this imaginary mother a reality!

Dating from the day at Saint-Cloud, Jean thought himself unhappy, and unhappy he became in fact.  He was wilfully, deliberately insubordinate, proud of breaking rules and defying punishments.

He and his school-mates attended the classes of a Lycee in the Quartier Latin.  Directly he had taken his place on the remotest bench in the well-warmed lecture-room, he would become absorbed in some sentimental novel concealed under piles of Latin and Greek authors.  Sometimes the master, short-sighted as he was, would catch the culprit in the act.

Still, Jean had his hours of triumph.  His translations were remarkable, not for accuracy, but at any rate for elegance.  So, too, his compositions sometimes contained happy phrases that earned him high praise.  On the theme, “The maiden Theano defending Alcibiades against the incensed Athenians,” he wrote a Latin oration that was warmly commended by Monsieur Duruy, the then Inspector of Public Instruction, and gained the young author some weeks of scholastic fame.

On holidays he would roam the boulevards and gaze with greedy eyes at the jewels, the silks and satins, the bronzes, the photographs of women, displayed in the shop-windows ­the thousand and one gewgaws and frivolities of fashion that seemed to him to sum up the necessary conditions of happiness.

His entry into the philosophy class was a red-letter day; he sported his first tall hat and smoked his first non-surreptitious cigarettes.  He possessed a certain brilliancy of mind and a keen wit that amused his companions, whose superior he was in gifts of imagination.

His last vacation was passed in tolerable content.  His father, thinking him looking pale, sent him on a visit to relatives living in a village near Chartres.  Jean, the tedious farm dinner ended, would go and sit under a tree and bury himself in a novel.  Occasionally he would ride to the city in the miller’s cart.  Often he would be drenched all the way by the rain that fell drearily at nightfall.  Then he would enjoy the fun of drying himself before the huge fireplace of some inn on the outskirts of the town, beside the savoury roast on the turning spit.  He even had a day’s shooting with an old flint-lock fowling-piece under the auspices of his cousin the miller.  In short, he could boast on his return of having had a country holiday.