Tantaine, with all humility, confessed his ignorance of these matters.
“Well,” said the professor, “the only difference between those old women and myself is, that they teach birds and I boys; and I know which I had rather do.”
Tantaine pointed to the whip.
“And how about this?” asked he.
Poluche shrugged his shoulders.
“Put yourself in my place for a little while,” remarked he. “You see my master brings me all sorts of boys, and I have to cram music into them in the briefest period possible. Of course the child revolts, and I thrash him; but do not think he cares for this; the young imps thrive on blows. The only way that I can touch them is through their stomachs. I stop a quarter, a half, and sometimes the whole of their dinner. That fetches them, and you have no idea how a little starvation brings them on in music.”
Daddy Tantaine felt a cold shiver creep over him as he listened to this frank exposition of the professor’s mode of action.
“You can now understand,” remarked the professor, “how some airs become popular in Paris. I have forty pupils all trying the same thing. I am drilling them now in the Marguerite, and in a little time you will have nothing else in the streets.”
Poluche was proceeding to give Tantaine some further information, when a step was heard upon the stairs, and the professor remarked,—
“Here is the master; he never comes up here, because he is afraid of the stairs. You had better go down to him.”
DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.
The ex-cook appeared before Tantaine in all his appalling vulgarity as the latter descended the stairs. The proprietor of the musical academy was a stout, red-faced man, with an insolent mouth and a cynical eye. He was gorgeously dressed, and wore a profusion of jewelry. He was much startled at seeing Tantaine, whom he knew to be the redoubtable Mascarin’s right-hand man. “A thousand thunders!” muttered he. “If these people have sent him here for me, I must take care what I am about,” and with a friendly smile he extended his hand to Tantaine.
“Glad to see you,” said he. “Now, what can I do for you, for I hope you have come to ask me to do something?”
“The veriest trifle,” returned Tantaine.
“I am sorry that it is not something of importance, for I have the greatest respect for M. Mascarin.”
This conversation had taken place in the window, and was interrupted every moment by the shouts and laughter of the children; but beneath these sounds of merriment came an occasional bitter wail of lamentation.
“What is that?” inquired Perpignan, in a voice of thunder. “Who presumes to be unhappy in this establishment?”
“It is two of the lads that I have put on half rations,” returned Poluche. “I’ll make them learn somehow or——”