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Title: The Fat and the Thin
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Fat and the Thin" ***



By Emile Zola

Translated, With An Introduction, By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

     Let me have men about me that are fat:
     Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights:
     Yond’ Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
     He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
     SHAKESPEARE: _Julius Caesar_, act i, sc. 2.


“THE FAT AND THE THIN,” or, to use the French title, “Le Ventre de
Paris,” is a story of life in and around those vast Central Markets
which form a distinctive feature of modern Paris. Even the reader who
has never crossed the Channel must have heard of the Parisian _Halles_,
for much has been written about them, not only in English books on
the French metropolis, but also in English newspapers, magazines, and
reviews; so that few, I fancy, will commence the perusal of the present
volume without having, at all events, some knowledge of its subject

The Paris markets form such a world of their own, and teem at certain
hours of the day and night with such exuberance of life, that it was
only natural they should attract the attention of a novelist like M.
Zola, who, to use his own words, delights “in any subject in which vast
masses of people can be shown in motion.” Mr. Sherard tells us[*] that
the idea of “Le Ventre de Paris” first occurred to M. Zola in 1872, when
he used continually to take his friend Paul Alexis for a ramble through
the Halles. I have in my possession, however, an article written by
M. Zola some five or six years before that time, and in this one can
already detect the germ of the present work; just as the motif of
another of M. Zola’s novels, “La Joie de Vivre,” can be traced to a
short story written for a Russian review.

[*] _Emile Zola: a Biographical and Critical Study_, by Robert
Harborough Sherard, pp. 103, 104. London, Chatto & Windus, 1893.

Similar instances are frequently to be found in the writings of English
as well as French novelists, and are, of course, easily explained. A
young man unknown to fame, and unable to procure the publication of a
long novel, often contents himself with embodying some particular idea
in a short sketch or story, which finds its way into one or another
periodical, where it lies buried and forgotten by everybody--excepting
its author. Time goes by, however, the writer achieves some measure of
success, and one day it occurs to him to elaborate and perfect that old
idea of his, only a faint _apercu_ of which, for lack of opportunity, he
had been able to give in the past. With a little research, no doubt, an
interesting essay might be written on these literary resuscitations; but
if one except certain novelists who are so deficient in ideas that they
continue writing and rewriting the same story throughout their lives, it
will, I think, be generally found that the revivals in question are due
to some such reason as that given above.

It should be mentioned that the article of M. Zola’s young days to which
I have referred is not one on market life in particular, but one on
violets. It contains, however, a vigorous, if brief, picture of the
Halles in the small hours of the morning, and is instinct with that
realistic descriptive power of which M. Zola has since given so many
proofs. We hear the rumbling and clattering of the market carts, we see
the piles of red meat, the baskets of silvery fish, the mountains of
vegetables, green and white; in a few paragraphs the whole market world
passes in kaleidoscopic fashion before our eyes by the pale, dancing
light of the gas lamps and the lanterns. Several years after the paper
I speak of was published, when M. Zola began to issue “Le Ventre
de Paris,” M. Tournachon, better known as Nadar, the aeronaut and
photographer, rushed into print to proclaim that the realistic novelist
had simply pilfered his ideas from an account of the Halles which he
(Tournachon) had but lately written. M. Zola, as is so often his wont,
scorned to reply to this charge of plagiarism; but, had he chosen, he
could have promptly settled the matter by producing his own forgotten

At the risk of passing for a literary ghoul, I propose to exhume some
portion of the paper in question, as, so far as translation can avail,
it will show how M. Zola wrote and what he thought in 1867. After the
description of the markets to which I have alluded, there comes the
following passage:--

I was gazing at the preparations for the great daily orgy of Paris when
I espied a throng of people bustling suspiciously in a corner. A few
lanterns threw a yellow light upon this crowd. Children, women, and men
with outstretched hands were fumbling in dark piles which extended along
the footway. I thought that those piles must be remnants of meat sold
for a trifling price, and that all those wretched people were rushing
upon them to feed. I drew near, and discovered my mistake. The heaps
were not heaps of meat, but heaps of violets. All the flowery poesy of
the streets of Paris lay there, on that muddy pavement, amidst mountains
of food. The gardeners of the suburbs had brought their sweet-scented
harvests to the markets and were disposing of them to the hawkers. From
the rough fingers of their peasant growers the violets were passing to
the dirty hands of those who would cry them in the streets. At winter
time it is between four and six o’clock in the morning that the flowers
of Paris are thus sold at the Halles. Whilst the city sleeps and its
butchers are getting all ready for its daily attack of indigestion, a
trade in poetry is plied in dark, dank corners. When the sun rises the
bright red meat will be displayed in trim, carefully dressed joints, and
the violets, mounted on bits of osier, will gleam softly within their
elegant collars of green leaves. But when they arrive, in the dark
night, the bullocks, already ripped open, discharge black blood, and
the trodden flowers lie prone upon the footways. . . . I noticed just in
front of me one large bunch which had slipped off a neighbouring mound
and was almost bathing in the gutter. I picked it up. Underneath, it
was soiled with mud; the greasy, fetid sewer water had left black stains
upon the flowers. And then, gazing at these exquisite daughters of our
gardens and our woods, astray amidst all the filth of the city, I began
to ponder. On what woman’s bosom would those wretched flowerets open
and bloom? Some hawker would dip them in a pail of water, and of all the
bitter odours of the Paris mud they would retain but a slight pungency,
which would remain mingled with their own sweet perfume. The water would
remove their stains, they would pale somewhat, and become a joy both for
the smell and for the sight. Nevertheless, in the depths of each corolla
there would still remain some particle of mud suggestive of impurity.
And I asked myself how much love and passion was represented by all
those heaps of flowers shivering in the bleak wind. To how many loving
ones, and how many indifferent ones, and how many egotistical ones,
would all those thousands and thousands of violets go! In a few hours’
time they would be scattered to the four corners of Paris, and for a
paltry copper the passers-by would purchase a glimpse and a whiff of
springtide in the muddy streets.

Imperfect as the rendering may be, I think that the above passage
will show that M. Zola was already possessed of a large amount of his
acknowledged realistic power at the early date I have mentioned. I
should also have liked to quote a rather amusing story of a priggish
Philistine who ate violets with oil and vinegar, strongly peppered, but
considerations of space forbid; so I will pass to another passage, which
is of more interest and importance. Both French and English critics have
often contended that although M. Zola is a married man, he knows
very little of women, as there has virtually never been any _feminine
romance_ in his life. There are those who are aware of the contrary,
but whose tongues are stayed by considerations of delicacy and respect.
Still, as the passage I am now about to reproduce is signed and
acknowledged as fact by M. Zola himself, I see no harm in slightly
raising the veil from a long-past episode in the master’s life:--

The light was rising, and as I stood there before that footway
transformed into a bed of flowers my strange night-fancies gave place to
recollections at once sweet and sad. I thought of my last excursion to
Fontenay-aux-Roses, with the loved one, the good fairy of my twentieth
year. Springtime was budding into birth, the tender foliage gleamed
in the pale April sunshine. The little pathway skirting the hill was
bordered by large fields of violets. As one passed along, a strong
perfume seemed to penetrate one and make one languid. _She_ was leaning
on my arm, faint with love from the sweet odour of the flowers. A
whiteness hovered over the country-side, little insects buzzed in the
sunshine, deep silence fell from the heavens, and so low was the sound
of our kisses that not a bird in all the hedges showed sign of fear.
At a turn of the path we perceived some old bent women, who with dry,
withered hands were hurriedly gathering violets and throwing them into
large baskets. She who was with me glanced longingly at the flowers, and
I called one of the women. “You want some violets?” said she. “How much?
A pound?”

God of Heaven! She sold her flowers by the pound! We fled in deep
distress. It seemed as though the country-side had been transformed into
a huge grocer’s shop. . . . Then we ascended to the woods of Verrieres,
and there, in the grass, under the soft, fresh foliage, we found some
tiny violets which seemed to be dreadfully afraid, and contrived to
hide themselves with all sorts of artful ruses. During two long hours
I scoured the grass and peered into every nook, and as soon as ever I
found a fresh violet I carried it to her. She bought it of me, and
the price that I exacted was a kiss. . . . And I thought of all those
things, of all that happiness, amidst the hubbub of the markets of
Paris, before those poor dead flowers whose graveyard the footway had
become. I remembered my good fairy, who is now dead and gone, and the
little bouquet of dry violets which I still preserve in a drawer. When I
returned home I counted their withered stems: there were twenty of them,
and over my lips there passed the gentle warmth of my loved one’s twenty

And now from violets I must, with a brutality akin to that which M.
Zola himself displays in some of his transitions, pass to very different
things, for some time back a well-known English poet and essayist wrote
of the present work that it was redolent of pork, onions, and cheese.
To one of his sensitive temperament, with a muse strictly nourished on
sugar and water, such gross edibles as pork and cheese and onions were
peculiarly offensive. That humble plant the onion, employed to flavour
wellnigh every savoury dish, can assuredly need no defence; in most
European countries, too, cheese has long been known as the poor man’s
friend; whilst as for pork, apart from all other considerations, I can
claim for it a distinct place in English literature. A greater essayist
by far than the critic to whom I am referring, a certain Mr. Charles
Lamb, of the India House, has left us an immortal page on the origin of
roast pig and crackling. And, when everything is considered, I should
much like to know why novels should be confined to the aspirations of
the soul, and why they should not also treat of the requirements of
our physical nature? From the days of antiquity we have all known what
befell the members when, guided by the brain, they were foolish enough
to revolt against the stomach. The latter plays a considerable part not
only in each individual organism, but also in the life of the world.
Over and over again--I could adduce a score of historical examples--it
has thwarted the mightiest designs of the human mind. We mortals are
much addicted to talking of our minds and our souls and treating our
bodies as mere dross. But I hold--it is a personal opinion--that in the
vast majority of cases the former are largely governed by the last. I
conceive, therefore, that a novel which takes our daily sustenance as
one of its themes has the best of all _raisons d’etre_. A foreign writer
of far more consequence and ability than myself--Signor Edmondo de
Amicis--has proclaimed the present book to be “one of the most original
and happiest inventions of French genius,” and I am strongly inclined to
share his opinion.

It should be observed that the work does not merely treat of the
provisioning of a great city. That provisioning is its _scenario_; but
it also embraces a powerful allegory, the prose song of “the eternal
battle between the lean of this world and the fat--a battle in which, as
the author shows, the latter always come off successful. It is, too, in
its way an allegory of the triumph of the fat bourgeois, who lives well
and beds softly, over the gaunt and Ishmael artist--an allegory which
M. Zola has more than once introduced into his pages, another notable
instance thereof being found in ‘Germinal,’ with the fat, well-fed
Gregoires on the one hand, and the starving Maheus on the other.”

From this quotation from Mr. Sherard’s pages it will be gathered that M.
Zola had a distinct social aim in writing this book. Wellnigh the
whole social question may, indeed, be summed up in the words “food and
comfort”; and in a series of novels like “Les Rougon-Macquart,” dealing
firstly with different conditions and grades of society, and, secondly,
with the influence which the Second Empire exercised on France, the
present volume necessarily had its place marked out from the very first.

Mr. Sherard has told us of all the labour which M. Zola expended on
the preparation of the work, of his multitudinous visits to the Paris
markets, his patient investigation of their organism, and his keen
artistic interest in their manifold phases of life. And bred as I was
in Paris, a partaker as I have been of her exultations and her woes they
have always had for me a strong attraction. My memory goes back to the
earlier years of their existence, and I can well remember many of the
old surroundings which have now disappeared. I can recollect the last
vestiges of the antique _piliers_, built by Francis I, facing the Rue de
la Tonnellerie. Paul Niquet’s, with its “bowel-twisting brandy” and
its crew of drunken ragpickers, was certainly before my time; but I can
readily recall Baratte’s and Bordier’s and all the folly and prodigality
which raged there; I knew, too, several of the noted thieves’ haunts
which took the place of Niquet’s, and which one was careful never to
enter without due precaution. And then, when the German armies were
beleaguering Paris, and two millions of people were shut off from the
world, I often strolled to the Halles to view their strangely altered
aspect. The fish pavilion, of which M. Zola has so much to say, was bare
and deserted. The railway drays, laden with the comestible treasures of
the ocean, no longer thundered through the covered ways. At the most one
found an auction going on in one or another corner, and a few Seine eels
or gudgeons fetching wellnigh their weight in gold. Then, in the butter
and cheese pavilions, one could only procure some nauseous melted fat,
while in the meat department horse and mule and donkey took the place
of beef and veal and mutton. Mule and donkey were very scarce, and
commanded high prices, but both were of better flavour than horse; mule,
indeed, being quite a delicacy. I also well remember a stall at which
dog was sold, and, hunger knowing no law, I once purchased, cooked,
and ate a couple of canine cutlets which cost me two francs apiece. The
flesh was pinky and very tender, yet I would not willingly make such a
repast again. However, peace and plenty at last came round once more,
the Halles regained their old-time aspect, and in the years which
followed I more than once saw the dawn rise slowly over the mounds of
cabbages, carrots, leeks, and pumpkins, even as M. Zola describes in the
following pages. He has, I think, depicted with remarkable accuracy and
artistic skill the many varying effects of colour that are produced
as the climbing sun casts its early beams on the giant larder and its
masses of food--effects of colour which, to quote a famous saying of the
first Napoleon, show that “the markets of Paris are the Louvre of the
people” in more senses than one.

The reader will bear in mind that the period dealt with by the author
in this work is that of 1857-60, when the new Halles Centrales were
yet young, and indeed not altogether complete. Still, although many old
landmarks have long since been swept away, the picture of life in all
essential particulars remained the same. Prior to 1860 the limits of
Paris were the so-called _boulevards exterieurs_, from which a girdle of
suburbs, such as Montmartre, Belleville, Passy, and Montrouge, extended
to the fortifications; and the population of the city was then only
1,400,000 souls. Some of the figures which will be found scattered
through M. Zola’s work must therefore be taken as applying entirely to
the past.

Nowadays the amount of business transacted at the Halles has very
largely increased, in spite of the multiplication of district markets.
Paris seems to have an insatiable appetite, though, on the other hand,
its cuisine is fast becoming all simplicity. To my thinking, few more
remarkable changes have come over the Parisians of recent years than
this change of diet. One by one great restaurants, formerly renowned for
particular dishes and special wines, have been compelled through lack
of custom to close their doors; and this has not been caused so much by
inability to defray the cost of high feeding as by inability to indulge
in it with impunity in a physical sense. In fact, Paris has become a
city of impaired digestions, which nowadays seek the simplicity without
the heaviness of the old English cuisine; and, should things continue
in their present course, I fancy that Parisians anxious for high feeding
will ultimately have to cross over to our side of the Channel.

These remarks, I trust, will not be considered out of place in an
introduction to a work which to no small extent treats of the appetite
of Paris. The reader will find that the characters portrayed by M. Zola
are all types of humble life, but I fail to see that their circumstances
should render them any the less interesting. A faithful portrait of a
shopkeeper, a workman, or a workgirl is artistically of far more value
than all the imaginary sketches of impossible dukes and good and wicked
baronets in which so many English novels abound. Several of M.
Zola’s personages seem to me extremely lifelike--Gavard, indeed, is a
_chef-d’oeuvre_ of portraiture: I have known many men like him; and no
one who lived in Paris under the Empire can deny the accuracy with
which the author has delineated his hero Florent, the dreamy and hapless
revolutionary caught in the toils of others. In those days, too, there
was many such a plot as M. Zola describes, instigated by agents like
Logre and Lebigre, and allowed to mature till the eve of an election or
some other important event which rendered its exposure desirable for the
purpose of influencing public opinion. In fact, in all that relates to
the so-called “conspiracy of the markets,” M. Zola, whilst changing time
and place to suit the requirements of his story, has simply followed
historical lines. As for the Quenus, who play such prominent parts
in the narrative, the husband is a weakling with no soul above his
stewpans, whilst his wife, the beautiful Lisa, in reality wears the
breeches and rules the roast. The manner in which she cures Quenu of his
political proclivities, though savouring of persuasiveness rather than
violence, is worthy of the immortal Mrs. Caudle: Douglas Jerrold might
have signed a certain lecture which she administers to her astounded
helpmate. Of Pauline, the Quenus’ daughter, we see but little in the
story, but she becomes the heroine of another of M. Zola’s novels, “La
Joie de Vivre,” and instead of inheriting the egotism of her parents,
develops a passionate love and devotion for others. In a like way Claude
Lantier, Florent’s artist friend and son of Gervaise of the “Assommoir,”
 figures more particularly in “L’Oeuvre,” which tells how his painful
struggle for fame resulted in madness and suicide. With reference to the
beautiful Norman and the other fishwives and gossips scattered through
the present volume, and those genuine types of Parisian _gaminerie_,
Muche, Marjolin, and Cadine, I may mention that I have frequently
chastened their language in deference to English susceptibilities,
so that the story, whilst retaining every essential feature, contains
nothing to which exception can reasonably be taken.

E. A. V.



Amidst the deep silence and solitude prevailing in the avenue several
market gardeners’ carts were climbing the slope which led towards Paris,
and the fronts of the houses, asleep behind the dim lines of elms on
either side of the road, echoed back the rhythmical jolting of the
wheels. At the Neuilly bridge a cart full of cabbages and another full
of peas had joined the eight waggons of carrots and turnips coming
down from Nanterre; and the horses, left to themselves, had continued
plodding along with lowered heads, at a regular though lazy pace, which
the ascent of the slope now slackened. The sleeping waggoners, wrapped
in woollen cloaks, striped black and grey, and grasping the reins
slackly in their closed hands, were stretched at full length on their
stomachs atop of the piles of vegetables. Every now and then, a gas
lamp, following some patch of gloom, would light up the hobnails of a
boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse, or the peak of a cap peering out
of the huge florescence of vegetables--red bouquets of carrots, white
bouquets of turnips, and the overflowing greenery of peas and cabbages.

And all along the road, and along the neighbouring roads, in front and
behind, the distant rumbling of vehicles told of the presence of similar
contingents of the great caravan which was travelling onward through the
gloom and deep slumber of that matutinal hour, lulling the dark city to
continued repose with its echoes of passing food.

Madame Francois’s horse, Balthazar, an animal that was far too fat,
led the van. He was plodding on, half asleep and wagging his ears, when
suddenly, on reaching the Rue de Longchamp, he quivered with fear and
came to a dead stop. The horses behind, thus unexpectedly checked, ran
their heads against the backs of the carts in front of them, and the
procession halted amidst a clattering of bolts and chains and the oaths
of the awakened waggoners. Madame Francois, who sat in front of her
vehicle, with her back to a board which kept her vegetables in position,
looked down; but, in the dim light thrown to the left by a small square
lantern, which illuminated little beyond one of Balthazar’s sheeny
flanks, she could distinguish nothing.

“Come, old woman, let’s get on!” cried one of the men, who had raised
himself to a kneeling position amongst his turnips; “it’s only some
drunken sot.”

Madame Francois, however, had bent forward and on her right hand had
caught sight of a black mass, lying almost under the horse’s hoofs, and
blocking the road.

“You wouldn’t have us drive over a man, would you?” said she, jumping to
the ground.

It was indeed a man lying at full length upon the road, with his arms
stretched out and his face in the dust. He seemed to be remarkably tall,
but as withered as a dry branch, and the wonder was that Balthazar
had not broken him in half with a blow from his hoof. Madame Francois
thought that he was dead; but on stooping and taking hold of one of his
hands, she found that it was quite warm.

“Poor fellow!” she murmured softly.

The waggoners, however, were getting impatient.

“Hurry up, there!” said the man kneeling amongst the turnips, in a
hoarse voice. “He’s drunk till he can hold no more, the hog! Shove him
into the gutter.”

Meantime, the man on the road had opened his eyes. He looked at Madame
Francois with a startled air, but did not move. She herself now thought
that he must indeed be drunk.

“You mustn’t stop here,” she said to him, “or you’ll get run over and
killed. Where were you going?”

“I don’t know,” replied the man in a faint voice.

Then, with an effort and an anxious expression, he added: “I was going
to Paris; I fell down, and don’t remember any more.”

Madame Francois could now see him more distinctly, and he was truly a
pitiable object, with his ragged black coat and trousers, through the
rents in which you could espy his scraggy limbs. Underneath a black
cloth cap, which was drawn low over his brows, as though he were afraid
of being recognised, could be seen two large brown eyes, gleaming with
peculiar softness in his otherwise stern and harassed countenance. It
seemed to Madame Francois that he was in far too famished a condition to
have got drunk.

“And what part of Paris were you going to?” she continued.

The man did not reply immediately. This questioning seemed to distress
him. He appeared to be thinking the matter over, but at last said
hesitatingly, “Over yonder, towards the markets.”

He had now, with great difficulty, got to his feet again, and seemed
anxious to resume his journey. But Madame Francois noticed that he
tottered, and clung for support to one of the shafts of her waggon.

“Are you tired?” she asked him.

“Yes, very tired,” he replied.

Then she suddenly assumed a grumpy tone, as though displeased, and,
giving him a push, exclaimed: “Look sharp, then, and climb into my cart.
You’ve made us lose a lot of time. I’m going to the markets, and I’ll
turn you out there with my vegetables.”

Then, as the man seemed inclined to refuse her offer, she pushed him up
with her stout arms, and bundled him down upon the turnips and carrots.

“Come, now, don’t give us any more trouble,” she cried angrily. “You are
quite enough to provoke one, my good fellow. Don’t I tell you that
I’m going to the markets? Sleep away up there. I’ll wake you when we

She herself then clambered into the cart again, and settled herself with
her back against the board, grasping the reins of Balthazar, who started
off drowsily, swaying his ears once more. The other waggons followed,
and the procession resumed its lazy march through the darkness, whilst
the rhythmical jolting of the wheels again awoke the echoes of the
sleepy house fronts, and the waggoners, wrapped in their cloaks, dozed
off afresh. The one who had called to Madame Francois growled out as he
lay down: “As if we’d nothing better to do than pick up every drunken
sot we come across! You’re a scorcher, old woman!”

The waggons rumbled on, and the horses picked their own way, with
drooping heads. The stranger whom Madame Francois had befriended was
lying on his stomach, with his long legs lost amongst the turnips which
filled the back part of the cart, whilst his face was buried amidst the
spreading piles of carrot bunches. With weary, extended arms he clutched
hold of his vegetable couch in fear of being thrown to the ground by one
of the waggon’s jolts, and his eyes were fixed on the two long lines of
gas lamps which stretched away in front of him till they mingled with a
swarm of other lights in the distance atop of the slope. Far away on the
horizon floated a spreading, whitish vapour, showing where Paris slept
amidst the luminous haze of all those flamelets.

“I come from Nanterre, and my name’s Madame Francois,” said the market
gardener presently. “Since my poor man died I go to the markets every
morning myself. It’s a hard life, as you may guess. And who are you?”

“My name’s Florent, I come from a distance,” replied the stranger, with
embarrassment. “Please excuse me, but I’m really so tired that it is
painful to me to talk.”

He was evidently unwilling to say anything more, and so Madame Francois
relapsed into silence, and allowed the reins to fall loosely on the
back of Balthazar, who went his way like an animal acquainted with every
stone of the road.

Meantime, with his eyes still fixed upon the far-spreading glare of
Paris, Florent was pondering over the story which he had refused to
communicate to Madame Francois. After making his escape from Cayenne,
whither he had been transported for his participation in the resistance
to Louis Napoleon’s Coup d’Etat, he had wandered about Dutch Guiana
for a couple of years, burning to return to France, yet dreading the
Imperial police. At last, however, he once more saw before him the
beloved and mighty city which he had so keenly regretted and so ardently
longed for. He would hide himself there, he told himself, and again lead
the quiet, peaceable life that he had lived years ago. The police would
never be any the wiser; and everyone would imagine, indeed, that he
had died over yonder, across the sea. Then he thought of his arrival at
Havre, where he had landed with only some fifteen francs tied up in a
corner of his handkerchief. He had been able to pay for a seat in
the coach as far as Rouen, but from that point he had been forced to
continue his journey on foot, as he had scarcely thirty sous left of his
little store. At Vernon his last copper had gone in bread. After that he
had no clear recollection of anything. He fancied that he could remember
having slept for several hours in a ditch, and having shown the papers
with which he had provided himself to a gendarme; however, he had only a
very confused idea of what had happened. He had left Vernon without any
breakfast, seized every now and then with hopeless despair and raging
pangs which had driven him to munch the leaves of the hedges as he
tramped along. A prey to cramp and fright, his body bent, his sight
dimmed, and his feet sore, he had continued his weary march, ever drawn
onwards in a semi-unconscious state by a vision of Paris, which, far,
far away, beyond the horizon, seemed to be summoning him and waiting for

When he at length reached Courbevoie, the night was very dark. Paris,
looking like a patch of star-sprent sky that had fallen upon the black
earth, seemed to him to wear a forbidding aspect, as though angry at his
return. Then he felt very faint, and his legs almost gave way beneath
him as he descended the hill. As he crossed the Neuilly bridge he
sustained himself by clinging to the parapet, and bent over and looked
at the Seine rolling inky waves between its dense, massy banks. A red
lamp on the water seemed to be watching him with a sanguineous eye.
And then he had to climb the hill if he would reach Paris on its summit
yonder. The hundreds of leagues which he had already travelled were
as nothing to it. That bit of a road filled him with despair. He would
never be able, he thought, to reach yonder light crowned summit. The
spacious avenue lay before him with its silence and its darkness, its
lines of tall trees and low houses, its broad grey footwalks, speckled
with the shadows of overhanging branches, and parted occasionally by the
gloomy gaps of side streets. The squat yellow flames of the gas lamps,
standing erect at regular intervals, alone imparted a little life to the
lonely wilderness. And Florent seemed to make no progress; the avenue
appeared to grow ever longer and longer, to be carrying Paris away into
the far depths of the night. At last he fancied that the gas lamps, with
their single eyes, were running off on either hand, whisking the road
away with them; and then, overcome by vertigo, he stumbled and fell on
the roadway like a log.

Now he was lying at ease on his couch of greenery, which seemed to him
soft as a feather bed. He had slightly raised his head so as to keep his
eyes on the luminous haze which was spreading above the dark roofs which
he could divine on the horizon. He was nearing his goal, carried along
towards it, with nothing to do but to yield to the leisurely jolts of
the waggon; and, free from all further fatigue, he now only suffered
from hunger. Hunger, indeed, had once more awoke within him with
frightful and wellnigh intolerable pangs. His limbs seemed to have
fallen asleep; he was only conscious of the existence of his stomach,
horribly cramped and twisted as by a red-hot iron. The fresh odour of
the vegetables, amongst which he was lying, affected him so keenly that
he almost fainted away. He strained himself against that piled-up
mass of food with all his remaining strength, in order to compress his
stomach and silence its groans. And the nine other waggons behind him,
with their mountains of cabbages and peas, their piles of artichokes,
lettuces, celery, and leeks, seemed to him to be slowly overtaking him,
as though to bury him whilst he was thus tortured by hunger beneath
an avalanche of food. Presently the procession halted, and there was a
sound of deep voices. They had reached the barriers, and the municipal
customs officers were examining the waggons. A moment later Florent
entered Paris, in a swoon, lying atop of the carrots, with clenched

“Hallow! You up there!” Madame Francois called out sharply.

And as the stranger made no attempt to move, she clambered up and shook
him. Florent rose to a sitting posture. He had slept and no longer felt
the pangs of hunger, but was dizzy and confused.

“You’ll help me to unload, won’t you?” Madame Francois said to him, as
she made him get down.

He helped her. A stout man with a felt hat on his head and a badge in
the top buttonhole of his coat was striking the ground with a stick and
grumbling loudly:

“Come, come, now, make haste! You must get on faster than that! Bring
the waggon a little more forward. How many yards’ standing have you?
Four, isn’t it?”

Then he gave a ticket to Madame Francois, who took some coppers out of a
little canvas bag and handed them to him; whereupon he went off to vent
his impatience and tap the ground with his stick a little further away.
Madame Francois took hold of Balthazar’s bridle and backed him so as to
bring the wheels of the waggon close to the footway. Then, having marked
out her four yards with some wisps of straw, after removing the back of
the cart, she asked Florent to hand her the vegetables bunch by bunch.
She arranged them sort by sort on her standing, setting them out
artistically, the “tops” forming a band of greenery around each pile;
and it was with remarkable rapidity that she completed her show, which,
in the gloom of early morning, looked like some piece of symmetrically
coloured tapestry. When Florent had handed her a huge bunch of parsley,
which he had found at the bottom of the cart, she asked him for still
another service.

“It would be very kind of you,” said she, “if you would look after my
goods while I put the horse and cart up. I’m only going a couple of
yards, to the Golden Compasses, in the Rue Montorgueil.”

Florent told her that she might make herself easy. He preferred to
remain still, for his hunger had revived since he had begun to move
about. He sat down and leaned against a heap of cabbages beside Madame
Francois’s stock. He was all right there, he told himself, and would
not go further afield, but wait. His head felt empty, and he had no very
clear notion as to where he was. At the beginning of September it
is quite dark in the early morning. Around him lighted lanterns were
flitting or standing stationary in the depths of the gloom. He was
sitting on one side of a broad street which he did not recognise; it
stretched far away into the blackness of the night. He could make
out nothing plainly, excepting the stock of which he had been left in
charge. All around him along the market footways rose similar piles of
goods. The middle of the roadway was blocked by huge grey tumbrels,
and from one end of the street to the other a sound of heavy breathing
passed, betokening the presence of horses which the eye could not

Shouts and calls, the noise of falling wood, or of iron chains slipping
to the ground, the heavy thud of loads of vegetables discharged from the
waggons, and the grating of wheels as the carts were backed against the
footways, filled the yet sonorous awakening, whose near approach could
be felt and heard in the throbbing gloom. Glancing over the pile of
cabbages behind him. Florent caught sight of a man wrapped like a parcel
in his cloak, and snoring away with his head upon some baskets of plums.
Nearer to him, on his left, he could distinguish a lad, some ten years
old, slumbering between two heaps of endive, with an angelic smile on
his face. And as yet there seemed to be nothing on that pavement that
was really awake except the lanterns waving from invisible arms, and
flitting and skipping over the sleep of the vegetables and human beings
spread out there in heaps pending the dawn. However, what surprised
Florent was the sight of some huge pavilions on either side of the
street, pavilions with lofty roofs that seemed to expand and soar out of
sight amidst a swarm of gleams. In his weakened state of mind he fancied
he beheld a series of enormous, symmetrically built palaces, light and
airy as crystal, whose fronts sparkled with countless streaks of light
filtering through endless Venetian shutters. Gleaming between the
slender pillar shafts these narrow golden bars seemed like ladders of
light mounting to the gloomy line of the lower roofs, and then soaring
aloft till they reached the jumble of higher ones, thus describing the
open framework of immense square halls, where in the yellow flare of the
gas lights a multitude of vague, grey, slumbering things was gathered

At last Florent turned his head to look about him, distressed at not
knowing where he was, and filled with vague uneasiness by the sight of
that huge and seemingly fragile vision. And now, as he raised his eyes,
he caught sight of the luminous dial and the grey massive pile of Saint
Eustache’s Church. At this he was much astonished. He was close to Saint
Eustache, yet all was novel to him.

However, Madame Francois had come back again, and was engaged in a
heated discussion with a man who carried a sack over his shoulder and
offered to buy her carrots for a sou a bunch.

“Really, now, you are unreasonable, Lacaille!” said she. “You know quite
well that you will sell them again to the Parisians at four and five
sous the bunch. Don’t tell me that you won’t! You may have them for two
sous the bunch, if you like.”

Then, as the man went off, she continued: “Upon my word, I believe some
people think that things grow of their own accord! Let him go and find
carrots at a sou the bunch elsewhere, tipsy scoundrel that he is! He’ll
come back again presently, you’ll see.”

These last remarks were addressed to Florent. And, seating herself by
his side, Madame Francois resumed: “If you’ve been a long time away from
Paris, you perhaps don’t know the new markets. They haven’t been built
for more than five years at the most. That pavilion you see there beside
us is the flower and fruit market. The fish and poultry markets are
farther away, and over there behind us come the vegetables and the
butter and cheese. There are six pavilions on this side, and on the
other side, across the road, there are four more, with the meat and
the tripe stalls. It’s an enormous place, but it’s horribly cold in the
winter. They talk about pulling down the houses near the corn market to
make room for two more pavilions. But perhaps you know all this?”

“No, indeed,” replied Florent; “I’ve been abroad. And what’s the name of
that big street in front of us?”

“Oh, that’s a new street. It’s called the Rue du Pont Neuf. It
leads from the Seine through here to the Rue Montmartre and the Rue
Montorgueil. You would soon have recognized where you were if it had
been daylight.”

Madame Francois paused and rose, for she saw a woman heading down to
examine her turnips. “Ah, is that you, Mother Chantemesse?” she said in
a friendly way.

Florent meanwhile glanced towards the Rue Montorgueil. It was there
that a body of police officers had arrested him on the night of December
4.[*] He had been walking along the Boulevard Montmartre at about two
o’clock, quietly making his way through the crowd, and smiling at the
number of soldiers that the Elysee had sent into the streets to awe the
people, when the military suddenly began making a clean sweep of the
thoroughfare, shooting folks down at close range during a quarter of an
hour. Jostled and knocked to the ground, Florent fell at the corner
of the Rue Vivienne and knew nothing further of what happened, for the
panic-stricken crowd, in their wild terror of being shot, trampled over
his body. Presently, hearing everything quiet, he made an attempt to
rise; but across him there lay a young woman in a pink bonnet, whose
shawl had slipped aside, allowing her chemisette, pleated in little
tucks, to be seen. Two bullets had pierced the upper part of her bosom;
and when Florent gently removed the poor creature to free his legs,
two streamlets of blood oozed from her wounds on to his hands. Then he
sprang up with a sudden bound, and rushed madly away, hatless and with
his hands still wet with blood. Until evening he wandered about the
streets, with his head swimming, ever seeing the young woman lying
across his legs with her pale face, her blue staring eyes, her distorted
lips, and her expression of astonishment at thus meeting death so
suddenly. He was a shy, timid fellow. Albeit thirty years old he had
never dared to stare women in the face; and now, for the rest of his
life, he was to have that one fixed in his heart and memory. He felt as
though he had lost some loved one of his own.

[*] 1851. Two days after the Coup d’Etat.--Translator.

In the evening, without knowing how he had got there, still dazed and
horrified as he was by the terrible scenes of the afternoon, he had
found himself at a wine shop in the Rue Montorgueil, where several men
were drinking and talking of throwing up barricades. He went away with
them, helped them to tear up a few paving-stones, and seated himself on
the barricade, weary with his long wandering through the streets, and
reflecting that he would fight when the soldiers came up. However, he
had not even a knife with him, and was still bareheaded. Towards eleven
o’clock he dozed off, and in his sleep could see the two holes in the
dead woman’s white chemisette glaring at him like eyes reddened by tears
and blood. When he awoke he found himself in the grasp of four police
officers, who were pummelling him with their fists. The men who had
built the barricade had fled. The police officers treated him with still
greater violence, and indeed almost strangled him when they noticed that
his hands were stained with blood. It was the blood of the young woman.

Florent raised his eyes to the luminous dial of Saint Eustache with his
mind so full of these recollections that he did not notice the position
of the pointers. It was, however, nearly four o’clock. The markets were
as yet wrapped in sleep. Madame Francois was still talking to old Madame
Chantemesse, both standing and arguing about the price of turnips, and
Florent now called to mind how narrowly he had escaped being shot over
yonder by the wall of Saint Eustache. A detachment of gendarmes had just
blown out the brains of five unhappy fellows caught at a barricade in
the Rue Greneta. The five corpses were lying on the footway, at a spot
where he thought he could now distinguish a heap of rosy radishes. He
himself had escaped being shot merely because the policemen only carried
swords. They took him to a neighbouring police station and gave the
officer in charge a scrap of paper, on which were these words written
in pencil: “Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous.” Then he had
been dragged from station to station till the morning came. The scrap of
paper accompanied him wherever he went. He was manacled and guarded as
though he were a raving madman. At the station in the Rue de la Lingerie
some tipsy soldiers wanted to shoot him; and they had already lighted a
lantern with that object when the order arrived for the prisoners to be
taken to the depot of the Prefecture of Police. Two days afterwards he
found himself in a casemate of the fort of Bicetre. Ever since then he
had been suffering from hunger. He had felt hungry in the casemate, and
the pangs of hunger had never since left him. A hundred men were pent in
the depths of that cellar-like dungeon, where, scarce able to breathe,
they devoured the few mouthfuls of bread that were thrown to them, like
so many captive wild beasts.

When Florent was brought before an investigating magistrate, without
anyone to defend him, and without any evidence being adduced, he was
accused of belonging to a secret society; and when he swore that this
was untrue, the magistrate produced the scrap of paper from amongst the
documents before him: “Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous.”
 That was quite sufficient. He was condemned to transportation. Six weeks
afterwards, one January night, a gaoler awoke him and locked him up in
a courtyard with more than four hundred other prisoners. An hour later
this first detachment started for the pontoons and exile, handcuffed and
guarded by a double file of gendarmes with loaded muskets. They crossed
the Austerlitz bridge, followed the line of the boulevards, and so
reached the terminus of the Western Railway line. It was a joyous
carnival night. The windows of the restaurants on the boulevards
glittered with lights. At the top of the Rue Vivienne, just at the spot
where he ever saw the young woman lying dead--that unknown young woman
whose image he always bore with him--he now beheld a large carriage in
which a party of masked women, with bare shoulders and laughing voices,
were venting their impatience at being detained, and expressing their
horror of that endless procession of convicts. The whole of the way from
Paris to Havre the prisoners never received a mouthful of bread or a
drink of water. The officials had forgotten to give them their rations
before starting, and it was not till thirty-six hours afterwards, when
they had been stowed away in the hold of the frigate _Canada_, that they
at last broke their fast.

No, Florent had never again been free from hunger. He recalled all the
past to mind, but could not recollect a single hour of satiety. He had
become dry and withered; his stomach seemed to have shrunk; his skin
clung to his bones. And now that he was back in Paris once more, he
found it fat and sleek and flourishing, teeming with food in the midst
of the darkness. He had returned to it on a couch of vegetables; he
lingered in its midst encompassed by unknown masses of food which still
and ever increased and disquieted him. Had that happy carnival night
continued throughout those seven years, then? Once again he saw the
glittering windows on the boulevards, the laughing women, the luxurious,
greedy city which he had quitted on that far-away January night; and it
seemed to him that everything had expanded and increased in harmony
with those huge markets, whose gigantic breathing, still heavy from the
indigestion of the previous day, he now began to hear.

Old Mother Chantemesse had by this time made up her mind to buy a dozen
bunches of turnips. She put them in her apron, which she held closely
pressed to her person, thus making herself look yet more corpulent than
she was; and for some time longer she lingered there, still gossiping in
a drawling voice. When at last she went away, Madame Francois again sat
down by the side of Florent.

“Poor old Mother Chantemesse!” she said; “she must be at least
seventy-two. I can remember her buying turnips of my father when I was
a mere chit. And she hasn’t a relation in the world; no one but a young
hussy whom she picked up I don’t know where and who does nothing but
bring her trouble. Still, she manages to live, selling things by the
ha’p’orth and clearing her couple of francs profit a day. For my own
part, I’m sure that I could never spend my days on the foot-pavement in
this horrid Paris! And she hasn’t even any relations here!”

“You have some relations in Paris, I suppose?” she asked presently,
seeing that Florent seemed disinclined to talk.

Florent did not appear to hear her. A feeling of distrust came back to
him. His head was teeming with old stories of the police, stories of
spies prowling about at every street corner, and of women selling the
secrets which they managed to worm out of the unhappy fellows they
deluded. Madame Francois was sitting close beside him and certainly
looked perfectly straightforward and honest, with her big calm face,
above which was bound a black and yellow handkerchief. She seemed about
five and thirty years of age, and was somewhat stoutly built, with a
certain hardy beauty due to her life in the fresh air. A pair of black
eyes, which beamed with kindly tenderness, softened the more masculine
characteristics of her person. She certainly was inquisitive, but her
curiosity was probably well meant.

“I’ve a nephew in Paris,” she continued, without seeming at all offended
by Florent’s silence. “He’s turned out badly though, and has enlisted.
It’s a pleasant thing to have somewhere to go to and stay at, isn’t it?
I dare say there’s a big surprise in store for your relations when they
see you. But it’s always a pleasure to welcome one of one’s own people
back again, isn’t it?”

She kept her eyes fixed upon him while she spoke, doubtless
compassionating his extreme scragginess; fancying, too, that there was
a “gentleman” inside those old black rags, and so not daring to slip a
piece of silver into his hand. At last, however, she timidly murmured:
“All the same, if you should happen just at present to be in want of

But Florent checked her with uneasy pride. He told her that he had
everything he required, and had a place to go to. She seemed quite
pleased to hear this, and, as though to tranquillise herself concerning
him, repeated several times: “Well, well, in that case you’ve only got
to wait till daylight.”

A large bell at the corner of the fruit market, just over Florent’s
head, now began to ring. The slow regular peals seemed to gradually
dissipate the slumber that yet lingered all around. Carts were still
arriving, and the shouts of the waggoners, the cracking of their whips,
and the grinding of the paving-stones beneath the iron-bound wheels and
the horses’ shoes sounded with an increasing din. The carts could now
only advance by a series of spasmodic jolts, and stretched in a long
line, one behind the other, till they were lost to sight in the distant
darkness, whence a confused roar ascended.

Unloading was in progress all along the Rue du Pont Neuf, the vehicles
being drawn up close to the edge of the footways, while their teams
stood motionless in close order as at a horse fair. Florent felt
interested in one enormous tumbrel which was piled up with magnificent
cabbages, and had only been backed to the kerb with the greatest
difficulty. Its load towered above the lofty gas lamp whose bright light
fell full upon the broad leaves which looked like pieces of dark green
velvet, scalloped and goffered. A young peasant girl, some sixteen years
old, in a blue linen jacket and cap, had climbed on to the tumbrel,
where, buried in the cabbages to her shoulders, she took them one by one
and threw them to somebody concealed in the shade below. Every now and
then the girl would slip and vanish, overwhelmed by an avalanche of
the vegetables, but her rosy nose soon reappeared amidst the teeming
greenery, and she broke into a laugh while the cabbages again flew down
between Florent and the gas lamp. He counted them mechanically as they
fell. When the cart was emptied he felt worried.

The piles of vegetables on the pavement now extended to the verge of the
roadway. Between the heaps, the market gardeners left narrow paths to
enable people to pass along. The whole of the wide footway was covered
from end to end with dark mounds. As yet, in the sudden dancing gleams
of light from the lanterns, you only just espied the luxuriant fulness
of the bundles of artichokes, the delicate green of the lettuces, the
rosy coral of the carrots, and dull ivory of the turnips. And these
gleams of rich colour flitted along the heaps, according as the lanterns
came and went. The footway was now becoming populated: a crowd of people
had awakened, and was moving hither and thither amidst the vegetables,
stopping at times, and chattering and shouting. In the distance a loud
voice could be heard crying, “Endive! who’s got endive?” The gates of
the pavilion devoted to the sale of ordinary vegetables had just been
opened; and the retail dealers who had stalls there, with white caps on
their heads, fichus knotted over their black jackets, and skirts pinned
up to keep them from getting soiled, now began to secure their stock for
the day, depositing their purchases in some huge porters’ baskets placed
upon the ground. Between the roadway and the pavilion these baskets were
to be seen coming and going on all sides, knocking against the
crowded heads of the bystanders, who resented the pushing with coarse
expressions, whilst all around was a clamour of voices growing hoarse
by prolonged wrangling over a sou or two. Florent was astonished by
the calmness of the female market gardeners, with bandanas and bronzed
faces, displayed amidst all this garrulous bargaining of the markets.

Behind him, on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau, fruit was being sold.
Hampers and low baskets covered with canvas or straw stood there in long
lines, a strong odour of over-ripe mirabelle plums was wafted hither and
thither. At last a subdued and gentle voice, which he had heard for some
time past, induced him to turn his head, and he saw a charming darksome
little woman sitting on the ground and bargaining.

“Come now, Marcel,” said she, “you’ll take a hundred sous, won’t you?”

The man to whom she was speaking was closely wrapped in his cloak and
made no reply; however, after a silence of five minutes or more, the
young woman returned to the charge.

“Come now, Marcel; a hundred sous for that basket there, and four francs
for the other one; that’ll make nine francs altogether.”

Then came another interval.

“Well, tell me what you will take.”

“Ten francs. You know that well enough already; I told you so before.
But what have you done with your Jules this morning, La Sarriette?”

The young woman began to laugh as she took a handful of small change out
of her pocket.

“Oh,” she replied, “Jules is still in bed. He says that men were not
intended to work.”

She paid for the two baskets, and carried them into the fruit pavilion,
which had just been opened. The market buildings still retained their
gloom-wrapped aspect of airy fragility, streaked with the thousand lines
of light that gleamed from the venetian shutters. People were beginning
to pass along the broad covered streets intersecting the pavilions, but
the more distant buildings still remained deserted amidst the increasing
buzz of life on the footways. By Saint Eustache the bakers and wine
sellers were taking down their shutters, and the ruddy shops, with their
gas lights flaring, showed like gaps of fire in the gloom in which the
grey house-fronts were yet steeped. Florent noticed a baker’s shop on
the left-hand side of the Rue Montorgueil, replete and golden with its
last baking, and fancied he could scent the pleasant smell of the hot
bread. It was now half past four.

Madame Francois by this time had disposed of nearly all her stock. She
had only a few bunches of carrots left when Lacaille once more made his
appearance with his sack.

“Well,” said he, “will you take a sou now?”

“I knew I should see you again,” the good woman quietly answered. “You’d
better take all I have left. There are seventeen bunches.”

“That makes seventeen sous.”

“No; thirty-four.”

At last they agreed to fix the price at twenty-five sous. Madame
Francois was anxious to be off.

“He’d been keeping his eye upon me all the time,” she said to Florent,
when Lacaille had gone off with the carrots in his sack. “That old rogue
runs things down all over the markets, and he often waits till the last
peal of the bell before spending four sous in purchase. Oh, these Paris
folk! They’ll wrangle and argue for an hour to save half a sou, and then
go off and empty their purses at the wine shop.”

Whenever Madame Francois talked of Paris she always spoke in a tone of
disdain, and referred to the city as though it were some ridiculous,
contemptible, far-away place, in which she only condescended to set foot
at nighttime.

“There!” she continued, sitting down again, beside Florent, on some
vegetables belonging to a neighbour, “I can get away now.”

Florent bent his head. He had just committed a theft. When Lacaille
went off he had caught sight of a carrot lying on the ground, and having
picked it up he was holding it tightly in his right hand. Behind him
were some bundles of celery and bunches of parsley were diffusing
pungent odours which painfully affected him.

“Well, I’m off now!” said Madame Francois.

However, she felt interested in this stranger, and could divine that
he was suffering there on that foot-pavement, from which he had never
stirred. She made him fresh offers of assistance, but he again refused
them, with a still more bitter show of pride. He even got up and
remained standing to prove that he was quite strong again. Then, as
Madame Francois turned her head away, he put the carrot to his mouth.
But he had to remove it for a moment, in spite of the terrible longing
which he felt to dig his teeth into it; for Madame Francois turned round
again and looking him full in the face, began to question him with
her good-natured womanly curiosity. Florent, to avoid speaking, merely
answered by nods and shakes of the head. Then, slowly and gently, he
began to eat the carrot.

The worthy woman was at last on the point of going off, when a powerful
voice exclaimed close beside her, “Good morning, Madame Francois.”

The speaker was a slim young man, with big bones and a big head. His
face was bearded, and he had a very delicate nose and narrow sparkling
eyes. He wore on his head a rusty, battered, black felt hat, and was
buttoned up in an immense overcoat, which had once been of a soft
chestnut hue, but which rain had discoloured and streaked with
long greenish stains. Somewhat bent, and quivering with a nervous
restlessness which was doubtless habitual with him, he stood there in a
pair of heavy laced shoes, and the shortness of his trousers allowed a
glimpse of his coarse blue hose.

“Good morning, Monsieur Claude,” the market gardener replied cheerfully.
“I expected you, you know, last Monday, and, as you didn’t come, I’ve
taken care of your canvas for you. I’ve hung it up on a nail in my

“You are really very kind, Madame Francois. I’ll go to finish that study
of mine one of these days. I wasn’t able to go on Monday. Has your big
plum tree still got all its leaves?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“I wanted to know, because I mean to put it in a corner of the picture.
It will come in nicely by the side of the fowl house. I have been
thinking about it all the week. What lovely vegetables are in the market
this morning! I came down very early, expecting a fine sunrise effect
upon all these heaps of cabbages.”

With a wave of the arm he indicated the footway.

“Well, well, I must be off now,” said Madame Francois. “Good-bye for the
present. We shall meet again soon, I hope, Monsieur Claude.”

However, as she turned to go, she introduced Florent to the young

“This gentleman, it seems, has just come from a distance,” said she.
“He feels quite lost in your scampish Paris. I dare say you might be of
service to him.”

Then she at last took her departure, feeling pleased at having left the
two men together. Claude looked at Florent with a feeling of interest.
That tall, slight, wavy figure seemed to him original. Madame Francois’s
hasty presentation was in his eyes quite sufficient, and he addressed
Florent with the easy familiarity of a lounger accustomed to all sorts
of chance encounters.

“I’ll accompany you,” he said; “which way are you going?”

Florent felt ill at ease; he was not wont to unbosom himself so readily.
However, ever since his arrival in Paris, a question had been trembling
on his lips, and now he ventured to ask it, with the evident fear of
receiving an unfavourable reply.

“Is the Rue Pirouette still in existence?”

“Oh, yes,” answered the artist. “A very curious corner of old Paris
is the Rue Pirouette. It twists and turns like a dancing girl, and the
houses bulge out like pot-bellied gluttons. I’ve made an etching of it
that isn’t half bad. I’ll show it to you when you come to see me. Is it
to the Rue Pirouette that you want to go?”

Florent, who felt easier and more cheerful now that he knew the street
still existed, declared that he did not want to go there; in fact, he
did not want to go anywhere in particular. All his distrust awoke into
fresh life at Claude’s insistence.

“Oh! never mind,” said the artist, “let’s go to the Rue Pirouette all
the same. It has such a fine colour at night time. Come along; it’s only
a couple of yards away.”

Florent felt constrained to follow him, and the two men walked off, side
by side, stepping over the hampers and vegetables like a couple of old
friends. On the footway of the Rue Rambuteau there were some immense
heaps of cauliflowers, symmetrically piled up like so many cannonballs.
The soft-white flowers spread out like huge roses in the midst of their
thick green leaves, and the piles had something of the appearance
of bridal bouquets ranged in a row in colossal flower stands. Claude
stopped in front of them, venting cries of admiration.

Then, on turning into the Rue Pirouette, which was just opposite,
he pointed out each house to his companion, and explained his views
concerning it. There was only a single gas lamp, burning in a corner.
The buildings, which had settled down and swollen, threw their
pent-houses forward in such wise as to justify Claude’s allusion to
pot-bellied gluttons, whilst their gables receded, and on either side
they clung to their neighbours for support. Three or four, however,
standing in gloomy recesses, appeared to be on the point of toppling
forward. The solitary gas lamp illumined one which was snowy with a
fresh coat of whitewash, suggesting some flabby broken-down old dowager,
powdered and bedaubed in the hope of appearing young. Then the others
stretched away into the darkness, bruised, dented, and cracked,
greeny with the fall of water from their roofs, and displaying such
an extraordinary variety of attitudes and tints that Claude could not
refrain from laughing as he contemplated them.

Florent, however, came to stand at the corner of the rue de Mondetour,
in front of the last house but one on the left. Here the three floors,
each with two shutterless windows, having little white curtains closely
drawn, seemed wrapped in sleep; but, up above, a light could be seen
flitting behind the curtains of a tiny gable casement. However, the
sight of the shop beneath the pent-house seemed to fill Florent with the
deepest emotion. It was kept by a dealer in cooked vegetables, and was
just being opened. At its far end some metal pans were glittering, while
on several earthen ones in the window there was a display of cooked
spinach and endive, reduced to a paste and arranged in conical mounds
from which customers were served with shovel-like carvers of white
metal, only the handles of which were visible. This sight seemed to
rivet Florent to the ground with surprise. He evidently could not
recognize the place. He read the name of the shopkeeper, Godeboeuf,
which was painted on a red sign board up above, and remained quite
overcome by consternation. His arms dangling beside him, he began to
examine the cooked spinach, with the despairing air of one on whom some
supreme misfortune falls.

However, the gable casement was now opened, and a little old woman
leaned out of it, and looked first at the sky and then at the markets in
the distance.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Saget is an early riser,” exclaimed Claude, who had
just raised his head. And, turning to his companion, he added: “I once
had an aunt living in that house. It’s a regular hive of tittle-tattle!
Ah, the Mehudins are stirring now, I see. There’s a light on the second

Florent would have liked to question his companion, but the latter’s
long discoloured overcoat give him a disquieting appearance. So without
a word Florent followed him, whilst he went on talking about the
Mehudins. These Mehudins were fish-girls, it seemed; the older one was a
magnificent creature, while the younger one, who sold fresh-water
fish, reminded Claude of one of Murillo’s virgins, whenever he saw her
standing with her fair face amidst her carps and eels.

From this Claude went on to remark with asperity that Murillo painted
like an ignoramus. But all at once he stopped short in the middle of the

“Come!” he exclaimed, “tell me where it is that you want to go.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere just at present,” replied Florent in
confusion. “Let’s go wherever you like.”

Just as they were leaving the Rue Pirouette, some one called to Claude
from a wine shop at the corner of the street. The young man went in,
dragging Florent with him. The shutters had been taken down on one side
only, and the gas was still burning in the sleepy atmosphere of the
shop. A forgotten napkin and some cards that had been used in the
previous evening’s play were still lying on the tables; and the fresh
breeze that streamed in through the open doorway freshened the close,
warm vinous air. The landlord, Monsieur Lebigre, was serving his
customers. He wore a sleeved waistcoat, and his fat regular features,
fringed by an untidy beard, were still pale with sleep. Standing in
front of the counter, groups of men, with heavy, tired eyes, were
drinking, coughing, and spitting, whilst trying to rouse themselves
by the aid of white wine and brandy. Amongst them Florent recognised
Lacaille, whose sack now overflowed with various sorts of vegetables.
He was taking his third dram with a friend, who was telling him a long
story about the purchase of a hamper of potatoes.[*] When he had emptied
his glass, he went to chat with Monsieur Lebigre in a little glazed
compartment at the end of the room, where the gas had not yet been

     [*] At the Paris central markets potatoes are sold by the
     hamper, not by the sack as in England.--Translator.

“What will you take?” Claude asked of Florent.

He had on entering grasped the hand of the person who had called out
to him. This was a market porter,[*] a well-built young man of two and
twenty at the most. His cheeks and chin were clean-shaven, but he wore
a small moustache, and looked a sprightly, strapping fellow with his
broad-brimmed hat covered with chalk, and his wool-worked neck-piece,
the straps falling from which tightened his short blue blouse. Claude,
who called him Alexandre, patted his arms, and asked him when they were
going to Charentonneau again. Then they talked about a grand excursion
they had made together in a boat on the Marne, when they had eaten a
rabbit for supper in the evening.

     [*] _Fort_ is the French term, literally “a strong man,” as
     every market porter needs to be.--Translator.

“Well, what will you take?” Claude again asked Florent.

The latter looked at the counter in great embarrassment. At one end of
it some stoneware pots, encircled with brass bands and containing punch
and hot wine, were standing over the short blue flames of a gas stove.
Florent at last confessed that a glass of something warm would be
welcome. Monsieur Lebigre thereupon served them with three glasses of
punch. In a basket near the pots were some smoking hot rolls which had
only just arrived. However, as neither of the others took one, Florent
likewise refrained, and drank his punch. He felt it slipping down into
his empty stomach, like a steam of molten lead. It was Alexandre who
paid for the “shout.”

“He’s a fine fellow, that Alexandre!” said Claude, when he and Florent
found themselves alone again on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau. “He’s
a very amusing companion to take into the country. He’s fond of showing
his strength. And then he’s so magnificently built! I have seen him
stripped. Ah, if I could only get him to pose for me in the nude out in
the open air! Well, we’ll go and take a turn through the markets now, if
you like.”

Florent followed, yielding entirely to his new friend’s guidance. A
bright glow at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau announced the break of
day. The far-spreading voice of the markets was become more sonorous,
and every now and then the peals of a bell ringing in some distant
pavilion mingled with the swelling, rising clamour. Claude and Florent
entered one of the covered streets between the fish and poultry
pavilions. Florent raised his eyes and looked at the lofty vault
overhead, the inner timbers of which glistened amidst a black lacework
of iron supports. As he turned into the great central thoroughfare he
pictured himself in some strange town, with its various districts and
suburbs, promenades and streets, squares and cross-roads, all suddenly
placed under shelter on a rainy day by the whim of some gigantic power.
The deep gloom brooding in the hollows of the roofs multiplied, as it
were, the forest of pillars, and infinitely increased the number of the
delicate ribs, railed galleries, and transparent shutters. And over
the phantom city and far away into the depths of the shade, a teeming,
flowering vegetation of luxuriant metal-work, with spindle-shaped stems
and twining knotted branches, covered the vast expanse as with the
foliage of some ancient forest. Several departments of the markets
still slumbered behind their closed iron gates. The butter and poultry
pavilions displayed rows of little trellised stalls and long alleys,
which lines of gas lights showed to be deserted. The fish market,
however, had just been opened, and women were flitting to and fro
amongst the white slabs littered with shadowy hampers and cloths. Among
the vegetables and fruit and flowers the noise and bustle were gradually
increasing. The whole place was by degree waking up, from the popular
quarter where the cabbages are piled at four o’clock in the morning,
to the lazy and wealthy district which only hangs up its pullets and
pheasants when the hands of the clock point to eight.

The great covered alleys were now teeming with life. All along the
footways on both sides of the road there were still many market
gardeners, with other small growers from the environs of Paris,
who displayed baskets containing their “gatherings” of the previous
evening--bundles of vegetables and clusters of fruit. Whilst the crowd
incessantly paced hither and thither, vehicles barred the road; and
Florent, in order to pass them, had to press against some dingy sacks,
like coal-sacks in appearance, and so numerous and heavy that the
axle-trees of the vans bent beneath them. They were quite damp, and
exhaled a fresh odour of seaweed. From a rent low down in the side of
one of them a black stream of big mussels was trickling.

Florent and Claude had now to pause at every step. The fish was arriving
and one after another the drays of the railway companies drove up laden
with wooden cages full of the hampers and baskets that had come by train
from the sea coast. And to get out of the way of the fish drays, which
became more and more numerous and disquieting, the artist and Florent
rushed amongst the wheels of the drays laden with butter and eggs and
cheese, huge yellow vehicles bearing coloured lanterns, and drawn by
four horses. The market porters carried the cases of eggs, and baskets
of cheese and butter, into the auction pavilion, where clerks were
making entries in note books by the light of the gas.

Claude was quite charmed with all this uproar, and forgot everything to
gaze at some effect of light, some group of blouses, or the picturesque
unloading of a cart. At last they extricated themselves from the crowd,
and as they continued on their way along the main artery they presently
found themselves amidst an exquisite perfume which seemed to be
following them. They were in the cut-flower market. All over the
footways, to the right and left, women were seated in front of large
rectangular baskets full of bunches of roses, violets, dahlias, and
marguerites. At times the clumps darkened and looked like splotches
of blood, at others they brightened into silvery greys of the softest
tones. A lighted candle, standing near one basket, set amidst the
general blackness quite a melody of colour--the bright variegations
of marguerites, the blood-red crimson of dahlias, the bluey purple of
violets, and the warm flesh tints of roses. And nothing could have
been sweeter or more suggestive of springtide than this soft breath of
perfume encountered on the footway, on emerging from the sharp odours of
the fish market and the pestilential smell of the butter and the cheese.

Claude and Florent turned round and strolled about, loitering among the
flowers. They halted with some curiosity before several women who were
selling bunches of fern and bundles of vine-leaves, neatly tied up in
packets of five and twenty. Then they turned down another covered alley,
which was almost deserted, and where their footsteps echoed as though
they had been walking through a church. Here they found a little cart,
scarcely larger than a wheelbarrow, to which was harnessed a diminutive
donkey, who, no doubt, felt bored, for at sight of them he began braying
with such prolonged and sonorous force that the vast roofing of the
markets fairly trembled. Then the horses began to neigh in reply, there
was a sound of pawing and tramping, a distant uproar, which swelled,
rolled along, then died away.

Meantime, in the Rue Berger in front of them, Claude and Florent
perceived a number of bare, frontless, salesmen’s shops, where, by the
light of flaring gas jets, they could distinguish piles of hampers and
fruit, enclosed by three dirty walls which were covered with addition
sums in pencil. And the two wanderers were still standing there,
contemplating this scene, when they noticed a well-dressed woman huddled
up in a cab which looked quite lost and forlorn in the block of carts as
it stealthily made its way onwards.

“There’s Cinderella coming back without her slippers,” remarked Claude
with a smile.

They began chatting together as they went back towards the markets.
Claude whistled as he strolled along with his hands in his pockets,
and expatiated on his love for this mountain of food which rises every
morning in the very centre of Paris. He prowled about the footways night
after night, dreaming of colossal still-life subjects, paintings of an
extraordinary character. He had even started on one, having his friend
Marjolin and that jade Cadine to pose for him; but it was hard work to
paint those confounded vegetables and fruit and fish and meat--they were
all so beautiful! Florent listened to the artist’s enthusiastic talk
with a void and hunger-aching stomach. It did not seem to occur to
Claude that all those things were intended to be eaten. Their charm for
him lay in their colour. Suddenly, however, he ceased speaking and, with
a gesture that was habitual to him, tightened the long red sash which he
wore under his green-stained coat.

And then with a sly expression he resumed:

“Besides, I breakfast here, through my eyes, at any rate, and that’s
better than getting nothing at all. Sometimes, when I’ve forgotten to
dine on the previous day, I treat myself to a perfect fit of indigestion
in the morning by watching the carts arrive here laden with all sorts
of good things. On such mornings as those I love my vegetables more than
ever. Ah! the exasperating part, the rank injustice of it all, is that
those rascally Philistines really eat these things!”

Then he went on to tell Florent of a supper to which a friend had
treated him at Baratte’s on a day of affluence. They had partaken of
oysters, fish, and game. But Baratte’s had sadly fallen, and all the
carnival life of the old Marche des Innocents was now buried. In place
thereof they had those huge central markets, that colossus of ironwork,
that new and wonderful town. Fools might say what they liked; it was the
embodiment of the spirit of the times. Florent, however, could not
at first make out whether he was condemning the picturesqueness of
Baratte’s or its good cheer.

But Claude next began to inveigh against romanticism. He preferred his
piles of vegetables, he said, to the rags of the middle ages; and he
ended by reproaching himself with guilty weakness in making an etching
of the Rue Pirouette. All those grimy old places ought to be levelled
to the ground, he declared, and modern houses ought to be built in their

“There!” he exclaimed, coming to a halt, “look at the corner of the
footway yonder! Isn’t that a picture readymade, ever so much more human
and natural than all their confounded consumptive daubs?”

Along the covered way women were now selling hot soup and coffee. At one
corner of the foot-pavement a large circle of customers clustered round
a vendor of cabbage soup. The bright tin caldron, full of broth, was
steaming over a little low stove, through the holes of which came the
pale glow of the embers. From a napkin-lined basket the woman took some
thin slices of bread and dropped them into yellow cups; then with a
ladle she filled the cups with liquor. Around her were saleswomen neatly
dressed, market gardeners in blouses, porters with coats soiled by the
loads they had carried, poor ragged vagabonds--in fact, all the early
hungry ones of the markets, eating, and scalding their mouths, and
drawing back their chins to avoid soiling them with the drippings from
their spoons. The delighted artist blinked, and sought a point of view
so as to get a good ensemble of the picture. That cabbage soup, however,
exhaled a very strong odour. Florent, for his part, turned his head
away, distressed by the sight of the full cups which the customers
emptied in silence, glancing around them the while like suspicious
animals. As the woman began serving a fresh customer, Claude himself was
affected by the odorous steam of the soup, which was wafted full in his

He again tightened his sash, half amused and half annoyed. Then resuming
his walk, and alluding to the punch paid for by Alexandre, he said to
Florent in a low voice:

“It’s very odd, but have you ever noticed that although a man can always
find somebody to treat him to something to drink, he can never find a
soul who will stand him anything to eat?”

The dawn was now rising. The houses on the Boulevard de Sebastopol at
the end of the Rue de la Cossonnerie were still black; but above the
sharp line of their slate roofs a patch of pale blue sky, circumscribed
by the arch-pieces of the covered way, showed like a gleaming half-moon.
Claude, who had been bending over some grated openings on a level with
the ground, through which a glimpse could be obtained of deep cellars
where gas lights glimmered, now glanced up into the air between the
lofty pillars, as though scanning the dark roofs which fringed the clear
sky. Then he halted again, with his eyes fixed on one of the light iron
ladders which connect the superposed market roofs and give access from
one to the other. Florent asked him what he was seeking there.

“I’m looking for that scamp of a Marjolin,” replied the artist. “He’s
sure to be in some guttering up there, unless, indeed, he’s been
spending the night in the poultry cellars. I want him to give me a

Then he went on to relate how a market saleswoman had found his friend
Marjolin one morning in a pile of cabbages, and how Marjolin had grown
up in all liberty on the surrounding footways. When an attempt had been
made to send him to school he had fallen ill, and it had been necessary
to bring him back to the markets. He knew every nook and corner of them,
and loved them with a filial affection, leading the agile life of a
squirrel in that forest of ironwork. He and Cadine, the hussy whom
Mother Chantemesse had picked up one night in the old Market of the
Innocents, made a pretty couple--he, a splendid foolish fellow, as
glowing as a Rubens, with a ruddy down on his skin which attracted the
sunlight; and she, slight and sly, with a comical phiz under her tangle
of black curly hair.

Whilst talking Claude quickened his steps, and soon brought his
companion back to Saint Eustache again. Florent, whose legs were once
more giving way, dropped upon a bench near the omnibus office. The
morning air was freshening. At the far end of the Rue Rambuteau rosy
gleams were streaking the milky sky, which higher up was slashed by
broad grey rifts. Such was the sweet balsamic scent of this dawn, that
Florent for a moment fancied himself in the open country, on the brow of
a hill. But behind the bench Claude pointed out to him the many aromatic
herbs and bulbs on sale. All along the footway skirting the tripe
market there were, so to say, fields of thyme and lavender, garlic and
shallots; and round the young plane-trees on the pavement the vendors
had twined long branches of laurel, forming trophies of greenery. The
strong scent of the laurel leaves prevailed over every other odour.

At present the luminous dial of Saint Eustache was paling as a
night-light does when surprised by the dawn. The gas jets in the wine
shops in the neighbouring streets went out one by one, like stars
extinguished by the brightness. And Florent gazed at the vast markets
now gradually emerging from the gloom, from the dreamland in which
he had beheld them, stretching out their ranges of open palaces.
Greenish-grey in hue, they looked more solid now, and even more colossal
with their prodigious masting of columns upholding an endless expanse
of roofs. They rose up in geometrically shaped masses; and when all the
inner lights had been extinguished and the square uniform buildings were
steeped in the rising dawn, they seemed typical of some gigantic modern
machine, some engine, some caldron for the supply of a whole people,
some colossal belly, bolted and riveted, built up of wood and glass and
iron, and endowed with all the elegance and power of some mechanical
motive appliance working there with flaring furnaces, and wild,
bewildering revolutions of wheels.

Claude, however, had enthusiastically sprung on to the bench, and stood
upon it. He compelled his companion to admire the effect of the dawn
rising over the vegetables. There was a perfect sea of these extending
between the two clusters of pavilions from Saint Eustache to the Rue des
Halles. And in the two open spaces at either end the flood of greenery
rose to even greater height, and quite submerged the pavements. The dawn
appeared slowly, softly grey in hue, and spreading a light water-colour
tint over everything. These surging piles akin to hurrying waves, this
river of verdure rushing along the roadway like an autumn torrent,
assumed delicate shadowy tints--tender violet, blush-rose, and greeny
yellow, all the soft, light hues which at sunrise make the sky look like
a canopy of shot silk. And by degrees, as the fires of dawn rose higher
and higher at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau, the mass of vegetation
grew brighter and brighter, emerging more and more distinctly from the
bluey gloom that clung to the ground. Salad herbs, cabbage-lettuce,
endive, and succory, with rich soil still clinging to their roots,
exposed their swelling hearts; bundles of spinach, bundles of sorrel,
clusters of artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mounds of cos-lettuce,
tied round with straws, sounded every note in the whole gamut of
greenery, from the sheeny lacquer-like green of the pods to the
deep-toned green of the foliage; a continuous gamut with ascending and
descending scales which died away in the variegated tones of the heads
of celery and bundles of leeks. But the highest and most sonorous notes
still came from the patches of bright carrots and snowy turnips, strewn
in prodigious quantities all along the markets and lighting them up with
the medley of their two colours.

At the crossway in the Rue des Halles cabbages were piled up in
mountains; there were white ones, hard and compact as metal balls, curly
savoys, whose great leaves made them look like basins of green bronze,
and red cabbages, which the dawn seemed to transform into superb masses
of bloom with the hue of wine-lees, splotched with dark purple and
carmine. At the other side of the markets, at the crossway near Saint
Eustache, the end of the Rue Rambuteau was blocked by a barricade of
orange-hued pumpkins, sprawling with swelling bellies in two superposed
rows. And here and there gleamed the glistening ruddy brown of a hamper
of onions, the blood-red crimson of a heap of tomatoes, the quiet yellow
of a display of marrows, and the sombre violet of the fruit of the
eggplant; while numerous fat black radishes still left patches of gloom
amidst the quivering brilliance of the general awakening.

Claude clapped his hands at the sight. He declared that those
“blackguard vegetables” were wild, mad, sublime! He stoutly maintained
that they were not yet dead, but, gathered in the previous evening,
waited for the morning sun to bid him good-bye from the flag-stones
of the market. He could observe their vitality, he declared, see their
leaves stir and open as though their roots were yet firmly and warmly
embedded in well-manured soil. And here, in the markets, he added, he
heard the death-rattle of all the kitchen gardens of the environs of

A crowd of white caps, loose black jackets, and blue blouses was
swarming in the narrow paths between the various piles. The big baskets
of the market porters passed along slowly, above the heads of the
throng. Retail dealers, costermongers, and greengrocers were making
their purchases in haste. Corporals and nuns clustered round the
mountains of cabbages, and college cooks prowled about inquisitively, on
the look-out for good bargains. The unloading was still going on;
heavy tumbrels, discharging their contents as though these were so many
paving-stones, added more and more waves to the sea of greenery which
was now beating against the opposite footways. And from the far end of
the Rue du Pont Neuf fresh rows of carts were still and ever arriving.

“What a fine sight it is!” exclaimed Claude in an ecstasy of enthusiasm.

Florent was suffering keenly. He fancied that all this was some
supernatural temptation, and, unwilling to look at the markets any
longer, turned towards Saint Eustache, a side view of which he obtained
from the spot where he now stood. With its roses, and broad arched
windows, its bell-turret, and roofs of slate, it looked as though
painted in sepia against the blue of the sky. He fixed his eyes at last
on the sombre depths of the Rue Montorgueil, where fragments of
gaudy sign boards showed conspicuously, and on the corner of the Rue
Montmartre, where there were balconies gleaming with letters of gold.
And when he again glanced at the cross-roads, his gaze was solicited by
other sign boards, on which such inscriptions as “Druggist and Chemist,”
 “Flour and Grain” appeared in big red and black capital letters upon
faded backgrounds. Near these corners, houses with narrow windows were
now awakening, setting amidst the newness and airiness of the Rue du
Pont Neuf a few of the yellow ancient facades of olden Paris. Standing
at the empty windows of the great drapery shop at the corner of the
Rue Rambuteau a number of spruce-looking counter-jumpers in their shirt
sleeves, with snowy-white wristbands and tight-fitting pantaloons,
were “dressing” their goods. Farther away, in the windows of the severe
looking, barrack-like Guillot establishment, biscuits in gilt wrappers
and fancy cakes on glass stands were tastefully set out. All the shops
were now open; and workmen in white blouses, with tools under their
arms, were hurrying along the road.

Claude had not yet got down from the bench. He was standing on tiptoe in
order to see the farther down the streets. Suddenly, in the midst of the
crowd which he overlooked, he caught sight of a fair head with long wavy
locks, followed by a little black one covered with curly tumbled hair.

“Hallo, Marjolin! Hallo, Cadine!” he shouted; and then, as his voice was
drowned by the general uproar, he jumped to the ground and started off.
But all at once, recollecting that he had left Florent behind him, he
hastily came back. “I live at the end of the Impasse des Bourdonnais,”
 he said rapidly. “My name’s written in chalk on the door, Claude
Lantier. Come and see the etching of the Rue Pirouette.”

Then he vanished. He was quite ignorant of Florent’s name, and, after
favouring him with his views on art, parted from him as he had met him,
at the roadside.

Florent was now alone, and at first this pleased him. Ever since Madame
Francoise had picked him up in the Avenue de Neuilly he had been
coming and going in a state of pain fraught somnolence which had quite
prevented him from forming any definite ideas of his surroundings. Now
at last he was at liberty to do what he liked, and he tried to shake
himself free from that intolerable vision of teeming food by which he
was pursued. But his head still felt empty and dizzy, and all that he
could find within him was a kind of vague fear. The day was now growing
quite bright, and he could be distinctly seen. He looked down at his
wretched shabby coat and trousers. He buttoned the first, dusted the
latter, and strove to make a bit of a toilet, fearing lest those black
rags of his should proclaim aloud whence he had come. He was seated in
the middle of the bench, by the side of some wandering vagabonds who
had settled themselves there while waiting for the sunrise. The
neighbourhood of the markets is a favourite spot with vagrants in the
small hours of the morning. However, two constables, still in night
uniform, with cloaks and _kepis_, paced up and down the footway side by
side, their hands resting behind their backs; and every time they passed
the bench they glanced at the game which they scented there. Florent
felt sure that they recognised him, and were consulting together about
arresting him. At this thought his anguish of mind became extreme. He
felt a wild desire to get up and run away; but he did not dare to do
so, and was quite at a loss as to how he might take himself off. The
repeated glances of the constables, their cold, deliberate scrutiny
caused him the keenest torture. At length he rose from the bench, making
a great effort to restrain himself from rushing off as quickly as his
long legs could carry him; and succeeded in walking quietly away, though
his shoulders quivered in the fear he felt of suddenly feeling the rough
hands of the constables clutching at his collar from behind.

He had now only one thought, one desire, which was to get away from
the markets as quickly as possible. He would wait and make his
investigations later on, when the footways should be clear. The three
streets which met here--the Rue Montmartre, Rue Montorgueil, and Rue
Turbigo--filled him with uneasiness. They were blocked by vehicles of
all kinds, and their footways were crowded with vegetables. Florent went
straight along as far as the Rue Pierre Lescot, but there the cress and
the potato markets seemed to him insuperable obstacles. So he resolved
to take the Rue Rambuteau. On reaching the Boulevard de Sebastopol,
however, he came across such a block of vans and carts and waggonettes
that he turned back and proceeded along the Rue Saint Denis. Then he got
amongst the vegetables once more. Retail dealers had just set up their
stalls, formed of planks resting on tall hampers; and the deluge of
cabbages and carrots and turnips began all over again. The markets were
overflowing. Florent tried to make his escape from this pursuing
flood which ever overtook him in his flight. He tried the Rue de la
Cossonnerie, the Rue Berger, the Square des Innocents, the Rue de
la Ferronnerie, and the Rue des Halles. And at last he came to a
standstill, quite discouraged and scared at finding himself unable to
escape from the infernal circle of vegetables, which now seemed to dance
around him, twining clinging verdure about his legs.

The everlasting stream of carts and horses stretched away as far as the
Rue de Rivoli and the Place de l’Hotel de Ville. Huge vans were carrying
away supplies for all the greengrocers and fruiterers of an entire
district; _chars-a-bancs_ were starting for the suburbs with straining,
groaning sides. In the Rue de Pont Neuf Florent got completely
bewildered. He stumbled upon a crowd of hand-carts, in which numerous
costermongers were arranging their purchases. Amongst them he recognised
Lacaille, who went off along the Rue Saint Honore, pushing a barrow of
carrots and cauliflowers before him. Florent followed him, in the hope
that he would guide him out of the mob. The pavement was now quite
slippery, although the weather was dry, and the litter of artichoke
stalks, turnip tops, and leaves of all kinds made walking somewhat
dangerous. Florent stumbled at almost every step. He lost sight of
Lacaille in the Rue Vauvilliers, and on approaching the corn market
he again found the streets barricaded with vehicles. Then he made no
further attempt to struggle; he was once more in the clutch of the
markets, and their stream of life bore him back. Slowly retracing his
steps, he presently found himself by Saint Eustache again.

He now heard the loud continuous rumbling of the waggons that were
setting out from the markets. Paris was doling out the daily food of its
two million inhabitants. These markets were like some huge central organ
beating with giant force, and sending the blood of life through every
vein of the city. The uproar was akin to that of colossal jaws--a mighty
sound to which each phase of the provisioning contributed, from the
whip-cracking of the larger retail dealers as they started off for the
district markets to the dragging pit-a-pat of the old shoes worn by the
poor women who hawked their lettuces in baskets from door to door.

Florent turned into a covered way on the left, intersecting the group of
four pavilions whose deep silent gloom he had remarked during the night.
He hoped that he might there find a refuge, discover some corner in
which he could hide himself. But these pavilions were now as busy, as
lively as the others. Florent walked on to the end of the street. Drays
were driving up at a quick trot, crowding the market with cages full of
live poultry, and square hampers in which dead birds were stowed in deep
layers. On the other side of the way were other drays from which porters
were removing freshly killed calves, wrapped in canvas, and laid at full
length in baskets, whence only the four bleeding stumps of their legs
protruded. There were also whole sheep, and sides and quarters of beef.
Butchers in long white aprons marked the meat with a stamp, carried it
off, weighted it, and hung it up on hooks in the auction room. Florent,
with his face close to the grating, stood gazing at the rows of hanging
carcasses, at the ruddy sheep and oxen and paler calves, all streaked
with yellow fat and sinews, and with bellies yawning open. Then he
passed along the sidewalk where the tripe market was held, amidst the
pallid calves’ feet and heads, the rolled tripe neatly packed in boxes,
the brains delicately set out in flat baskets, the sanguineous livers,
and purplish kidneys. He checked his steps in front of some long
two-wheeled carts, covered with round awnings, and containing sides of
pork hung on each side of the vehicle over a bed of straw. Seen from
the back end, the interiors of the carts looked like recesses of some
tabernacle, like some taper-lighted chapel, such was the glow of all the
bare flesh they contained. And on the beds of straw were lines of tin
cans, full of the blood that had trickled from the pigs. Thereupon
Florent was attacked by a sort of rage. The insipid odour of the meat,
the pungent smell of the tripe exasperated him. He made his way out of
the covered road, preferring to return once more to the footwalk of the
Rue de Pont Neuf.

He was enduring perfect agony. The shiver of early morning came upon
him; his teeth chattered, and he was afraid of falling to the ground and
finding himself unable to rise again. He looked about, but could see no
vacant place on any bench. Had he found one he would have dropped
asleep there, even at the risk of being awakened by the police. Then, as
giddiness nearly blinded him, he leaned for support against a tree,
with his eyes closed and his ears ringing. The raw carrot, which he had
swallowed almost without chewing, was torturing his stomach, and the
glass of punch which he had drunk seemed to have intoxicated him. He was
indeed intoxicated with misery, weariness, and hunger. Again he felt a
burning fire in the pit of the stomach, to which he every now and then
carried his hands, as though he were trying to stop up a hole through
which all his life was oozing away. As he stood there he fancied that
the foot-pavement rocked beneath him; and thinking that he might perhaps
lessen his sufferings by walking, he went straight on through the
vegetables again. He lost himself among them. He went along a narrow
footway, turned down another, was forced to retrace his steps, bungled
in doing so, and once more found himself amidst piles of greenery. Some
heaps were so high that people seemed to be walking between walls
of bundles and bunches. Only their heads slightly overtopped these
ramparts, and passed along showing whitely or blackly according to the
colour of their hats or caps; whilst the huge swinging baskets, carried
aloft on a level with the greenery, looked like osier boats floating on
a stagnant, mossy lake.

Florent stumbled against a thousand obstacles--against porters taking up
their burdens, and saleswomen disputing in rough tones. He slipped over
the thick bed of waste leaves and stumps which covered the footway, and
was almost suffocated by the powerful odour of crushed verdure. At last
he halted in a sort of confused stupor, and surrendered to the pushing
of some and the insults of others; and then he became a mere waif, a
piece of wreckage tossed about on the surface of that surging sea.

He was fast losing all self-respect, and would willingly have begged.
The recollection of his foolish pride during the night exasperated him.
If he had accepted Madame Francois’s charity, if he had not felt such
idiotic fear of Claude, he would not now have been stranded there
groaning in the midst of these cabbages. And he was especially angry
with himself for not having questioned the artist when they were in the
Rue Pirouette. Now, alas! he was alone and deserted, liable to die in
the streets like a homeless dog.

For the last time he raised his eyes and looked at the markets. At
present they were glittering in the sun. A broad ray was pouring through
the covered road from the far end, cleaving the massy pavilions with an
arcade of light, whilst fiery beams rained down upon the far expanse of
roofs. The huge iron framework grew less distinct, assumed a bluey hue,
became nothing but a shadowy silhouette outlined against the flaming
flare of the sunrise. But up above a pane of glass took fire, drops of
light trickled down the broad sloping zinc plates to the gutterings; and
then, below, a tumultuous city appeared amidst a haze of dancing golden
dust. The general awakening had spread, from the first start of the
market gardeners snoring in their cloaks, to the brisk rolling of the
food-laden railway drays. And the whole city was opening its iron gates,
the footways were humming, the pavilions roaring with life. Shouts and
cries of all kinds rent the air; it was as though the strain, which
Florent had heard gathering force in the gloom ever since four in the
morning, had now attained its fullest volume. To the right and left, on
all sides indeed, the sharp cries accompanying the auction sales sounded
shrilly like flutes amidst the sonorous bass roar of the crowd. It was
the fish, the butter, the poultry, and the meat being sold.

The pealing of bells passed through the air, imparting a quiver to the
buzzing of the opening markets. Around Florent the sun was setting the
vegetables aflame. He no longer perceived any of those soft water-colour
tints which had predominated in the pale light of early morning. The
swelling hearts of the lettuces were now gleaming brightly, the scales
of greenery showed forth with wondrous vigour, the carrots glowed
blood-red, the turnips shone as if incandescent in the triumphant
radiance of the sun.

On Florent’s left some waggons were discharging fresh loads of cabbages.
He turned his eyes, and away in the distance saw carts yet streaming out
of the Rue Turbigo. The tide was still and ever rising. He had felt
it about his ankles, then on a level with his stomach, and now it was
threatening to drown him altogether. Blinded and submerged, his ears
buzzing, his stomach overpowered by all that he had seen, he asked for
mercy; and wild grief took possession of him at the thought of dying
there of starvation in the very heart of glutted Paris, amidst the
effulgent awakening of her markets. Big hot tears started from his eyes.

Walking on, he had now reached one of the larger alleys. Two women, one
short and old, the other tall and withered, passed him, talking together
as they made their way towards the pavilions.

“So you’ve come to do your marketing, Mademoiselle Saget?” said the tall
withered woman.

“Well, yes, Madame Lecoeur, if you can give it such a name as marketing.
I’m a lone woman, you know, and live on next to nothing. I should have
liked a small cauliflower, but everything is so dear. How is butter
selling to-day?”

“At thirty-four sous. I have some which is first rate. Will you come and
look at it?”

“Well, I don’t know if I shall want any to-day; I’ve still a little lard

Making a supreme effort, Florent followed these two women. He
recollected having heard Claude name the old one--Mademoiselle
Saget--when they were in the Rue Pirouette; and he made up his mind
to question her when she should have parted from her tall withered

“And how’s your niece?” Mademoiselle Saget now asked.

“Oh, La Sarriette does as she likes,” Madame Lecoeur replied in a bitter
tone. “She’s chosen to set up for herself and her affairs no longer
concern me. When her lovers have beggared her, she needn’t come to me
for any bread.”

“And you were so good to her, too! She ought to do well this year; fruit
is yielding big profits. And your brother-in-law, how is he?”

“Oh, he----”

Madame Lecoeur bit her lips, and seemed disinclined to say anything

“Still the same as ever, I suppose?” continued Mademoiselle Saget. “He’s
a very worthy man. Still, I once heard it said that he spent his money
in such a way that--”

“But does anyone know how he spends his money?” interrupted Madame
Lecoeur, with much asperity. “He’s a miserly niggard, a scurvy fellow,
that’s what I say! Do you know, mademoiselle, he’d see me die of
starvation rather than lend me five francs! He knows quite well that
there’s nothing to be made out of butter this season, any more than
out of cheese and eggs; whereas he can sell as much poultry as ever he
chooses. But not once, I assure you, not once has he offered to help me.
I am too proud, as you know, to accept any assistance from him; still it
would have pleased me to have had it offered.”

“Ah, by the way, there he is, your brother-in-law!” suddenly exclaimed
Mademoiselle Saget, lowering her voice.

The two women turned and gazed at a man who was crossing the road to
enter the covered way close by.

“I’m in a hurry,” murmured Madame Lecoeur. “I left my stall without
anyone to look after it; and, besides, I don’t want to speak to him.”

However, Florent also had mechanically turned round and glanced at the
individual referred to. This was a short, squarely-built man, with a
cheery look and grey, close-cut brush-like hair. Under each arm he was
carrying a fat goose, whose head hung down and flapped against his legs.
And then all at once Florent made a gesture of delight. Forgetting his
fatigue, he ran after the man, and, overtaking him, tapped him on the

“Gavard!” he exclaimed.

The other raised his head and stared with surprise at Florent’s tall
black figure, which he did not at first recognise. Then all at once:
“What! is it you?” he cried, as if overcome with amazement. “Is it
really you?”

He all but let his geese fall, and seemed unable to master his surprise.
On catching sight, however, of his sister-in-law and Mademoiselle Saget,
who were watching the meeting at a distance, he began to walk on again.

“Come along; don’t let us stop here,” he said. “There are too many eyes
and tongues about.”

When they were in the covered way they began to chat. Florent related
how he had gone to the Rue Pirouette, at which Gavard seemed much amused
and laughed heartily. Then he told Florent that his brother Quenu had
moved from that street and had reopened his pork shop close by, in the
Rue Rambuteau, just in front of the markets. And afterwards he was again
highly amused to hear that Florent had been wandering about all that
morning with Claude Lantier, an odd kind of fish, who, strangely enough,
said he, was Madame Quenu’s nephew. Thus chatting, Gavard was on the
point of taking Florent straight to the pork shop, but, on hearing that
he had returned to France with false papers, he suddenly assumed all
sorts of solemn and mysterious airs, and insisted upon walking some
fifteen paces in front of him, to avoid attracting attention. After
passing through the poultry pavilion, where he hung his geese up in his
stall, he began to cross the Rue Rambuteau, still followed by Florent;
and then, halting in the middle of the road, he glanced significantly
towards a large and well-appointed pork shop.

The sun was obliquely enfilading the Rue Rambuteau, lighting up the
fronts of the houses, in the midst of which the Rue Pirouette formed a
dark gap. At the other end the great pile of Saint Eustache glittered
brightly in the sunlight like some huge reliquary. And right through
the crowd, from the distant crossway, an army of street-sweepers was
advancing in file down the road, the brooms swishing rhythmically,
while scavengers provided with forks pitched the collected refuse into
tumbrels, which at intervals of a score of paces halted with a noise
like the chattering of broken pots. However, all Florent’s attention was
concentrated on the pork shop, open and radiant in the rising sun.

It stood very near the corner of the Rue Pirouette and provided quite
a feast for the eyes. Its aspect was bright and smiling, touches of
brilliant colour showing conspicuously amidst all the snowy marble. The
sign board, on which the name of QUENU-GRADELLE glittered in fat
gilt letters encircled by leaves and branches painted on a soft-hued
background, was protected by a sheet of glass. On two panels, one on
each side of the shop-front, and both, like the board above, covered
with glass, were paintings representing various chubby little cupids
playing amidst boars’ heads, pork chops and strings of sausages; and
these latter still-life subjects, embellished with scrolls and bows,
had been painted in such soft tones that the uncooked pork which they
represented had the pinkiness of raspberry jam. Within this pleasing
framework arose the window display, arranged upon a bed of fine
blue-paper shavings. Here and there fern-leaves, tastefully disposed,
changed the plates which they encircled into bouquets fringed with
foliage. There was a wealth of rich, luscious, melting things. Down
below, quite close to the window, jars of preserved sausage-meat were
interspersed with pots of mustard. Above these were some small, plump,
boned hams. Golden with their dressings of toasted bread-crumbs, and
adorned at the knuckles with green rosettes. Next came the larger
dishes, some containing preserved Strasburg tongues, enclosed in
bladders coloured a bright red and varnished, so that they looked quite
sanguineous beside the pale sausages and trotters; then there were
black-puddings coiled like harmless snakes, healthy looking chitterlings
piled up two by two; Lyons sausages in little silver copes that made
them look like choristers; hot pies, with little banner-like tickets
stuck in them; big hams, and great glazed joints of veal and pork, whose
jelly was as limpid as sugar-candy. In the rear were other dishes and
earthen pans in which meat, minced and sliced, slumbered beneath lakes
of melted fat. And betwixt the various plates and dishes, jars and
bottle of sauce, cullis, stock and preserved truffles, pans of _foie
gras_ and boxes of sardines and tunny-fish were strewn over the bed of
paper shavings. A box of creamy cheeses, and one of edible snails, the
apertures of whose shells were dressed with butter and parsley, had been
placed carelessly at either corner. Finally, from a bar overhead strings
of sausages and saveloys of various sizes hung down symmetrically like
cords and tassels; while in the rear fragments of intestinal membranes
showed like lacework, like some _guipure_ of white flesh. And on the
highest tier in this sanctuary of gluttony, amidst the membranes and
between two bouquets of purple gladioli, the window stand was crowned
by a small square aquarium, ornamented with rock-work, and containing a
couple of gold-fish, which were continually swimming round it.

Florent’s whole body thrilled at the sight. Then he perceived a woman
standing in the sunlight at the door of the shop. With her prosperous,
happy look in the midst of all those inviting things she added to the
cherry aspect of the place. She was a fine woman and quite blocked the
doorway. Still, she was not over stout, but simply buxom, with the full
ripeness of her thirty years. She had only just risen, yet her glossy
hair was already brushed smooth and arranged in little flat bands over
her temples, giving her an appearance of extreme neatness. She had the
fine skin, the pinky-white complexion common to those whose life is
spent in an atmosphere of raw meat and fat. There was a touch of gravity
about her demeanour, her movements were calm and slow; what mirth or
pleasure she felt she expressed by her eyes, her lips retaining all
their seriousness. A collar of starched linen encircled her neck, white
sleevelets reached to her elbows, and a white apron fell even over the
tips of her shoes, so that you saw but little of her black cashmere
dress, which clung tightly to her well-rounded shoulders and swelling
bosom. The sun rays poured hotly upon all the whiteness she displayed.
However, although her bluish-black hair, her rosy face, and bright
sleeves and apron were steeped in the glow of light, she never once
blinked, but enjoyed her morning bath of sunshine with blissful
tranquillity, her soft eyes smiling the while at the flow and riot of
the markets. She had the appearance of a very worthy woman.

“That is your brother’s wife, your sister-in-law, Lisa,” Gavard said to

He had saluted her with a slight inclination of the head. Then he darted
along the house passage, continuing to take the most minute precautions,
and unwilling to let Florent enter the premises through the shop, though
there was no one there. It was evident that he felt great pleasure in
dabbling in what he considered to be a compromising business.

“Wait here,” he said, “while I go to see whether your brother is alone.
You can come in when I clap my hands.”

Thereupon he opened a door at the end of the passage. But as soon as
Florent heard his brother’s voice behind it, he sprang inside at a
bound. Quenu, who was much attached to him, threw his arms round his
neck, and they kissed each other like children.

“Ah! dash it all! Is it really you, my dear fellow?” stammered the pork
butcher. “I never expected to see you again. I felt sure you were dead!
Why, only yesterday I was saying to Lisa, ‘That poor fellow, Florent!’”

However, he stopped short, and popping his head into the shop, called
out, “Lisa! Lisa!” Then turning towards a little girl who had crept into
a corner, he added, “Pauline, go and find your mother.”

The little one did not stir, however. She was an extremely fine
child, five years of age, with a plump chubby face, bearing a strong
resemblance to that of the pork butcher’s wife. In her arms she was
holding a huge yellow cat, which had cheerfully surrendered itself to
her embrace, with its legs dangling downwards; and she now squeezed
it tightly with her little arms, as if she were afraid that yonder
shabby-looking gentleman might rob her of it.

Lisa, however, leisurely made her appearance.

“Here is my brother Florent!” exclaimed Quenu.

Lisa addressed him as “Monsieur,” and gave him a kindly welcome. She
scanned him quietly from head to foot, without evincing any disagreeable
surprise. Merely a faint pout appeared for a moment on her lips. Then,
standing by, she began to smile at her husband’s demonstrations of
affection. Quenu, however, at last recovered his calmness, and noticing
Florent’s fleshless, poverty-stricken appearance, exclaimed: “Ah, my
poor fellow, you haven’t improved in your looks since you were over
yonder. For my part, I’ve grown fat; but what would you have!”

He had indeed grown fat, too fat for his thirty years. He seemed to be
bursting through his shirt and apron, through all the snowy-white linen
in which he was swathed like a huge doll. With advancing years his
clean-shaven face had become elongated, assuming a faint resemblance to
the snout of one of those pigs amidst whose flesh his hands worked and
lived the whole day through. Florent scarcely recognised him. He had now
seated himself, and his glance turned from his brother to handsome Lisa
and little Pauline. They were all brimful of health, squarely built,
sleek, in prime condition; and in their turn they looked at Florent with
the uneasy astonishment which corpulent people feel at the sight of a
scraggy person. The very cat, whose skin was distended by fat, dilated
its yellow eyes and scrutinised him with an air of distrust.

“You’ll wait till we have breakfast, won’t you?” asked Quenu. “We have
it early, at ten o’clock.”

A penetrating odour of cookery pervaded the place; and Florent looked
back upon the terrible night which he had just spent, his arrival
amongst the vegetables, his agony in the midst of the markets, the
endless avalanches of food from which he had just escaped. And then in a
low tone and with a gentle smile he responded:

“No; I’m really very hungry, you see.”


Florent had just begun to study law in Paris when his mother died. She
lived at Le Vigan, in the department of the Gard, and had taken for
her second husband one Quenu, a native of Yvetot in Normandy, whom some
sub-prefect had transplanted to the south and then forgotten there. He
had remained in employment at the sub-prefecture, finding the country
charming, the wine good, and the women very amiable. Three years after
his marriage he had been carried off by a bad attack of indigestion,
leaving as sole legacy to his wife a sturdy boy who resembled him. It
was only with very great difficulty that the widow could pay the college
fees of Florent, her elder son, the issue of her first marriage. He
was a very gentle youth, devoted to his studies, and constantly won the
chief prizes at school. It was upon him that his mother lavished all her
affection and based all her hopes. Perhaps, in bestowing so much love on
this slim pale youth, she was giving evidence of her preference for her
first husband, a tender-hearted, caressing Provencal, who had loved
her devotedly. Quenu, whose good humour and amiability had at first
attracted her, had perhaps displayed too much self-satisfaction, and
shown too plainly that he looked upon himself as the main source
of happiness. At all events she formed the opinion that her
younger son--and in southern families younger sons are still often
sacrificed--would never do any good; so she contented herself with
sending him to a school kept by a neighbouring old maid, where the lad
learned nothing but how to idle his time away. The two brothers grew up
far apart from each other, as though they were strangers.

When Florent arrived at Le Vigan his mother was already buried. She had
insisted upon having her illness concealed from him till the very last
moment, for fear of disturbing his studies. Thus he found little Quenu,
who was then twelve years old, sitting and sobbing alone on a table in
the middle of the kitchen. A furniture dealer, a neighbour, gave him
particulars of his mother’s last hours. She had reached the end of her
resources, had killed herself by the hard work which she had undertaken
to earn sufficient money that her elder son might continue his legal
studies. To her modest trade in ribbons, the profits of which were but
small, she had been obliged to add other occupations, which kept her
up very late at night. Her one idea of seeing Florent established as an
advocate, holding a good position in the town, had gradually caused her
to become hard and miserly, without pity for either herself or others.
Little Quenu was allowed to wander about in ragged breeches, and in
blouses from which the sleeves were falling away. He never dared to
serve himself at table, but waited till he received his allowance of
bread from his mother’s hands. She gave herself equally thin slices, and
it was to the effects of this regimen that she had succumbed, in deep
despair at having failed to accomplish her self-allotted task.

This story made a most painful impression upon Florent’s tender nature,
and his sobs wellnigh choked him. He took his little half brother in his
arms, held him to his breast, and kissed him as though to restore to him
the love of which he had unwittingly deprived him. Then he looked at the
lad’s gaping shoes, torn sleeves, and dirty hands, at all the manifest
signs of wretchedness and neglect. And he told him that he would take
him away, and that they would both live happily together. The next day,
when he began to inquire into affairs, he felt afraid that he would not
be able to keep sufficient money to pay for the journey back to Paris.
However, he was determined to leave Le Vigan at any cost. He was
fortunately able to sell the little ribbon business, and this enabled
him to discharge his mother’s debts, for despite her strictness in money
matters she had gradually run up bills. Then, as there was nothing left,
his mother’s neighbour, the furniture dealer, offered him five hundred
francs for her chattels and stock of linen. It was a very good bargain
for the dealer, but the young man thanked him with tears in his eyes.
He bought his brother some new clothes, and took him away that same

On his return to Paris he gave up all thought of continuing to attend
the Law School, and postponed every ambitious project. He obtained a
few pupils, and established himself with little Quenu in the Rue Royer
Collard, at the corner of the Rue Saint Jacques, in a big room which he
furnished with two iron bedsteads, a wardrobe, a table, and four chairs.
He now had a child to look after, and this assumed paternity was very
pleasing to him. During the earlier days he attempted to give the lad
some lessons when he returned home in the evening, but Quenu was an
unwilling pupil. He was dull of understanding, and refused to learn,
bursting into tears and regretfully recalling the time when his mother
had allowed him to run wild in the streets. Florent thereupon stopped
his lessons in despair, and to console the lad promised him a holiday of
indefinite length. As an excuse for his own weakness he repeated that he
had not brought his brother to Paris to distress him. To see him grow up
in happiness became his chief desire. He quite worshipped the boy, was
charmed with his merry laughter, and felt infinite joy in seeing him
about him, healthy and vigorous, and without a care. Florent for his
part remained very slim and lean in his threadbare coat, and his face
began to turn yellow amidst all the drudgery and worry of teaching; but
Quenu grew up plump and merry, a little dense, indeed, and scarce able
to read or write, but endowed with high spirits which nothing could
ruffle, and which filled the big gloomy room in the Rue Royer Collard
with gaiety.

Years, meantime, passed by. Florent, who had inherited all his mother’s
spirit of devotion, kept Quenu at home as though he were a big, idle
girl. He did not even suffer him to perform any petty domestic duties,
but always went to buy the provisions himself, and attended to the
cooking and other necessary matters. This kept him, he said, from
indulging in his own bad thoughts. He was given to gloominess, and
fancied that he was disposed to evil. When he returned home in the
evening, splashed with mud, and his head bowed by the annoyances to
which other people’s children had subjected him, his heart melted
beneath the embrace of the sturdy lad whom he found spinning his top
on the tiled flooring of the big room. Quenu laughed at his brother’s
clumsiness in making omelettes, and at the serious fashion in which he
prepared the soup-beef and vegetables. When the lamp was extinguished,
and Florent lay in bed, he sometimes gave way to feelings of sadness. He
longed to resume his legal studies, and strove to map out his duties in
such wise as to secure time to follow the programme of the faculty.
He succeeded in doing this, and was then perfectly happy. But a slight
attack of fever, which confined him to his room for a week, made such a
hole in his purse, and caused him so much alarm, that he abandoned all
idea of completing his studies. The boy was now getting a big
fellow, and Florent took a post as teacher in a school in the Rue de
l’Estrapade, at a salary of eighteen hundred francs per annum. This
seemed like a fortune to him. By dint of economy he hoped to be able to
amass a sum of money which would set Quenu going in the world. When the
lad reached his eighteenth year Florent still treated him as though he
were a daughter for whom a dowry must be provided.

However, during his brother’s brief illness Quenu himself had made
certain reflections. One morning he proclaimed his desire to work,
saying that he was now old enough to earn his own living. Florent was
deeply touched at this. Just opposite, on the other side of the street,
lived a working watchmaker whom Quenu, through the curtainless window,
could see leaning over a little table, manipulating all sorts of
delicate things, and patiently gazing at them through a magnifying glass
all day long. The lad was much attracted by the sight, and declared that
he had a taste for watchmaking. At the end of a fortnight, however, he
became restless, and began to cry like a child of ten, complaining
that the work was too complicated, and that he would never be able to
understand all the silly little things that enter into the construction
of a watch.

His next whim was to be a locksmith; but this calling he found too
fatiguing. In a couple of years he tried more than ten different trades.
Florent opined that he acted rightly, that it was wrong to take up a
calling one did not like. However, Quenu’s fine eagerness to work for
his living strained the resources of the little establishment very
seriously. Since he had begun flitting from one workshop to another
there had been a constant succession of fresh expenses; money had gone
in new clothes, in meals taken away from home, and in the payment of
footings among fellow workmen. Florent’s salary of eighteen hundred
francs was no longer sufficient, and he was obliged to take a couple
of pupils in the evenings. For eight years he had continued to wear the
same old coat.

However, the two brothers had made a friend. One side of the house in
which they lived overlooked the Rue Saint Jacques, where there was a
large poultry-roasting establishment[*] kept by a worthy man called
Gavard, whose wife was dying from consumption amidst an atmosphere
redolent of plump fowls. When Florent returned home too late to cook a
scrap of meat, he was in the habit of laying out a dozen sous or so on
a small portion of turkey or goose at this shop. Such days were feast
days. Gavard in time grew interested in this tall, scraggy customer,
learned his history, and invited Quenu into his shop. Before long the
young fellow was constantly to be found there. As soon as his brother
left the house he came downstairs and installed himself at the rear
of the roasting shop, quite enraptured with the four huge spits which
turned with a gentle sound in front of the tall bright flames.

     [*] These rotisseries, now all but extinct, were at one time
     a particular feature of the Parisian provision trade. I can
     myself recollect several akin to the one described by M.
     Zola. I suspect that they largely owed their origin to the
     form and dimensions of the ordinary Parisian kitchen stove,
     which did not enable people to roast poultry at home in a
     convenient way. In the old French cuisine, moreover, roast
     joints of meat were virtually unknown; roasting was almost
     entirely confined to chickens, geese, turkeys, pheasants,
     etc.; and among the middle classes people largely bought
     their poultry already cooked of the _rotisseur_, or else
     confided it to him for the purpose of roasting, in the same
     way as our poorer classes still send their joints to the
     baker’s. Roasting was also long looked upon in France as a
     very delicate art. Brillat-Savarin, in his famous
     _Physiologie du Gout_, lays down the dictum that “A man may
     become a cook, but is born a _rotisseur_.”--Translator.

The broad copper bands of the fireplace glistened brightly, the poultry
steamed, the fat bubbled melodiously in the dripping-pan, and the spits
seemed to talk amongst themselves and to address kindly words to Quenu,
who, with a long ladle, devoutly basted the golden breasts of the fat
geese and turkeys. He would stay there for hours, quite crimson in the
dancing glow of the flames, and laughing vaguely, with a somewhat stupid
expression, at the birds roasting in front of him. Indeed, he did
not awake from this kind of trance until the geese and turkeys were
unspitted. They were placed on dishes, the spits emerged from their
carcasses smoking hot, and a rich gravy flowed from either end and
filled the shop with a penetrating odour. Then the lad, who, standing
up, had eagerly followed every phase of the dishing, would clap his
hands and begin to talk to the birds, telling them that they were very
nice, and would be eaten up, and that the cats would have nothing but
their bones. And he would give a start of delight whenever Gavard handed
him a slice of bread, which he forthwith put into the dripping-pan that
it might soak and toast there for half an hour.

It was in this shop, no doubt, that Quenu’s love of cookery took its
birth. Later on, when he had tried all sorts of crafts, he returned,
as though driven by fate, to the spits and the poultry and the savoury
gravy which induces one to lick one’s fingers. At first he was afraid
of vexing his brother, who was a small eater and spoke of good fare with
the disdain of a man who is ignorant of it; but afterwards, on seeing
that Florent listened to him when he explained the preparation of some
very elaborate dish, he confessed his desires and presently found a
situation at a large restaurant. From that time forward the life of the
two brothers was settled. They continued to live in the room in the Rue
Royer Collard, whither they returned every evening; the one glowing and
radiant from his hot fire, the other with the depressed countenance of
a shabby, impecunious teacher. Florent still wore his old black coat, as
he sat absorbed in correcting his pupils’ exercises; while Quenu, to
put himself more at ease, donned his white apron, cap, and jacket, and,
flitting about in front of the stove, amused himself by baking some
dainty in the oven. Sometimes they smiled at seeing themselves thus
attired, the one all in black, the other all in white. These different
garbs, one bright and the other sombre, seemed to make the big room half
gay and half mournful. Never, however, was there so much harmony in a
household marked by such dissimilarity. Though the elder brother grew
thinner and thinner, consumed by the ardent temperament which he had
inherited from his Provencal father, and the younger one waxed fatter
and fatter like a true son of Normandy, they loved each other in the
brotherhood they derived from their mother--a mother who had been all

They had a relation in Paris, a brother of their mother’s, one Gradelle,
who was in business as a pork butcher in the Rue Pirouette, near
the central markets. He was a fat, hard-hearted, miserly fellow, and
received his nephews as though they were starving paupers the first time
they paid him a visit. They seldom went to see him afterwards. On
his nameday Quenu would take him a bunch of flowers, and receive a
half-franc piece in return for it. Florent’s proud and sensitive nature
suffered keenly when Gradelle scrutinised his shabby clothes with the
anxious, suspicious glance of a miser apprehending a request for a
dinner, or the loan of a five-franc piece. One day, however, it occurred
to Florent in all artlessness to ask his uncle to change a hundred-franc
note for him, and after this the pork butcher showed less alarm at sight
of the lads, as he called them. Still, their friendship got no further
than these infrequent visits.

These years were like a long, sweet, sad dream to Florent. As they
passed he tasted to the full all the bitter joys of self-sacrifice. At
home, in the big room, life was all love and tenderness; but out in the
world, amidst the humiliations inflicted on him by his pupils, and
the rough jostling of the streets, he felt himself yielding to wicked
thoughts. His slain ambitions embittered him. It was long before he
could bring himself to bow to his fate, and accept with equanimity the
painful lot of a poor, plain, commonplace man. At last, to guard against
the temptations of wickedness, he plunged into ideal goodness, and
sought refuge in a self-created sphere of absolute truth and justice. It
was then that he became a republican, entering into the republican idea
even as heart-broken girls enter a convent. And not finding a republic
where sufficient peace and kindliness prevailed to lull his troubles to
sleep, he created one for himself. He took no pleasure in books. All
the blackened paper amidst which he lived spoke of evil-smelling
class-rooms, of pellets of paper chewed by unruly schoolboys, of long,
profitless hours of torture. Besides, books only suggested to him a
spirit of mutiny and pride, whereas it was of peace and oblivion that he
felt most need. To lull and soothe himself with the ideal imaginings, to
dream that he was perfectly happy, and that all the world would likewise
become so, to erect in his brain the republican city in which he would
fain have lived, such now became his recreation, the task, again and
again renewed, of all his leisure hours. He no longer read any books
beyond those which his duties compelled him to peruse; he preferred
to tramp along the Rue Saint Jacques as far as the outer boulevards,
occasionally going yet a greater distance and returning by the Barriere
d’Italie; and all along the road, with his eyes on the Quartier
Mouffetard spread out at his feet, he would devise reforms of great
moral and humanitarian scope, such as he thought would change that city
of suffering into an abode of bliss. During the turmoil of February
1848, when Paris was stained with blood he became quite heartbroken, and
rushed from one to another of the public clubs demanding that the blood
which had been shed should find atonement in “the fraternal embrace
of all republicans throughout the world.” He became one of those
enthusiastic orators who preached revolution as a new religion, full of
gentleness and salvation. The terrible days of December 1851, the days
of the Coup d’Etat, were required to wean him from his doctrines of
universal love. He was then without arms; allowed himself to be captured
like a sheep, and was treated as though he were a wolf. He awoke from
his sermon on universal brotherhood to find himself starving on the cold
stones of a casemate at Bicetre.

Quenu, when two and twenty, was distressed with anguish when his brother
did not return home. On the following day he went to seek his corpse at
the cemetery of Montmartre, where the bodies of those shot down on the
boulevards had been laid out in a line and covered with straw, from
beneath which only their ghastly heads projected. However, Quenu’s
courage failed him, he was blinded by his tears, and had to pass twice
along the line of corpses before acquiring the certainty that Florent’s
was not among them. At last, at the end of a long and wretched week, he
learned at the Prefecture of Police that his brother was a prisoner. He
was not allowed to see him, and when he pressed the matter the police
threatened to arrest him also. Then he hastened off to his uncle
Gradelle, whom he looked upon as a person of importance, hoping that he
might be able to enlist his influence in Florent’s behalf. But Gradelle
waxed wrathful, declared that Florent deserved his fate, that he ought
to have known better than to have mixed himself up with those rascally
republicans. And he even added that Florent was destined to turn out
badly, that it was written on his face.

Quenu wept copiously and remained there, almost choked by his sobs. His
uncle, a little ashamed of his harshness, and feeling that he ought to
do something for him, offered to receive him into his house. He wanted
an assistant, and knew that his nephew was a good cook. Quenu was so
much alarmed by the mere thought of going back to live alone in the
big room in the Rue Royer Collard, that then and there he accepted
Gradelle’s offer. That same night he slept in his uncle’s house, in
a dark hole of a garret just under the room, where there was scarcely
space for him to lie at full length. However, he was less wretched there
than he would have been opposite his brother’s empty couch.

He succeeded at length in obtaining permission to see Florent; but on
his return from Bicetre he was obliged to take to his bed. For nearly
three weeks he lay fever-stricken, in a stupefied, comatose state.
Gradelle meantime called down all sorts of maledictions on his
republican nephew; and one morning, when he heard of Florent’s departure
for Cayenne, he went upstairs, tapped Quenu on the hands, awoke him, and
bluntly told him the news, thereby bringing about such a reaction that
on the following day the young man was up and about again. His grief
wore itself out, and his soft flabby flesh seemed to absorb his tears.
A month later he laughed again, and then grew vexed and unhappy with
himself for having been merry; but his natural light-heartedness soon
gained the mastery, and he laughed afresh in unconscious happiness.

He now learned his uncle’s business, from which he derived even more
enjoyment than from cookery. Gradelle told him, however, that he must
not neglect his pots and pans, that it was rare to find a pork butcher
who was also a good cook, and that he had been lucky in serving in a
restaurant before coming to the shop. Gradelle, moreover, made full use
of his nephew’s acquirements, employed him to cook the dinners sent out
to certain customers, and placed all the broiling, and the preparation
of pork chops garnished with gherkins in his special charge. As the
young man was of real service to him, he grew fond of him after his
own fashion, and would nip his plump arms when he was in a good humour.
Gradelle had sold the scanty furniture of the room in the Rue Royer
Collard and retained possession of the proceeds--some forty francs or
so--in order, said he, to prevent the foolish lad, Quenu, from making
ducks and drakes of the cash. After a time, however, he allowed his
nephew six francs a month a pocket-money.

Quenu now became quite happy, in spite of the emptiness of his purse and
the harshness with which he was occasionally treated. He liked to have
life doled out to him; Florent had treated him too much like an indolent
girl. Moreover, he had made a friend at his uncle’s. Gradelle, when his
wife died, had been obliged to engage a girl to attend to the shop, and
had taken care to choose a healthy and attractive one, knowing that a
good-looking girl would set off his viands and help to tempt custom.
Amongst his acquaintances was a widow, living in the Rue Cuvier, near
the Jardin des Plantes, whose deceased husband had been postmaster at
Plassans, the seat of a sub-prefecture in the south of France. This
lady, who lived in a very modest fashion on a small annuity, had brought
with her from Plassans a plump, pretty child, whom she treated as her
own daughter. Lisa, as the young one was called, attended upon her with
much placidity and serenity of disposition. Somewhat seriously inclined,
she looked quite beautiful when she smiled. Indeed, her great charm came
from the exquisite manner in which she allowed this infrequent smile
of hers to escape her. Her eyes then became most caressing, and her
habitual gravity imparted inestimable value to these sudden, seductive
flashes. The old lady had often said that one of Lisa’s smiles would
suffice to lure her to perdition.

When the widow died she left all her savings, amounting to some ten
thousand francs, to her adopted daughter. For a week Lisa lived alone in
the Rue Cuvier; it was there that Gradelle came in search of her. He had
become acquainted with her by often seeing her with her mistress when
the latter called on him in the Rue Pirouette; and at the funeral
she had struck him as having grown so handsome and sturdy that he had
followed the hearse all the way to the cemetery, though he had not
intended to do so. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave, he
reflected what a splendid girl she would be for the counter of a pork
butcher’s shop. He thought the matter over, and finally resolved to
offer her thirty francs a month, with board and lodging. When he made
this proposal, Lisa asked for twenty-four hours to consider it. Then
she arrived one morning with a little bundle of clothes, and her ten
thousand francs concealed in the bosom of her dress. A month later the
whole place belonged to her; she enslaved Gradelle, Quenu, and even the
smallest kitchen-boy. For his part, Quenu would have cut off his fingers
to please her. When she happened to smile, he remained rooted to the
floor, laughing with delight as he gazed at her.

Lisa was the eldest daughter of the Macquarts of Plassans, and her
father was still alive.[*] But she said that he was abroad, and never
wrote to him. Sometimes she just dropped a hint that her mother, now
deceased, had been a hard worker, and that she took after her. She
worked, indeed, very assiduously. However, she sometimes added that
the worthy woman had slaved herself to death in striving to support her
family. Then she would speak of the respective duties of husband and
wife in such a practical though modest fashion as to enchant Quenu. He
assured her that he fully shared her ideas. These were that everyone,
man or woman, ought to work for his or her living, that everyone was
charged with the duty of achieving personal happiness, that great harm
was done by encouraging habits of idleness, and that the presence of so
much misery in the world was greatly due to sloth. This theory of hers
was a sweeping condemnation of drunkenness, of all the legendary loafing
ways of her father Macquart. But, though she did not know it, there was
much of Macquart’s nature in herself. She was merely a steady, sensible
Macquart with a logical desire for comfort, having grasped the truth
of the proverb that as you make your bed so you lie on it. To sleep in
blissful warmth there is no better plan than to prepare oneself a soft
and downy couch; and to the preparation of such a couch she gave all
her time and all her thoughts. When no more than six years old she
had consented to remain quietly on her chair the whole day through on
condition that she should be rewarded with a cake in the evening.

[*] See M. Zola’s novel, _The Fortune of the Rougons_.--Translator

At Gradelle’s establishment Lisa went on leading the calm, methodical
life which her exquisite smiles illumined. She had not accepted the pork
butcher’s offer at random. She reckoned upon finding a guardian in him;
with the keen scent of those who are born lucky she perhaps foresaw that
the gloomy shop in the Rue Pirouette would bring her the comfortable
future she dreamed of--a life of healthy enjoyment, and work without
fatigue, each hour of which would bring its own reward. She attended to
her counter with the quiet earnestness with which she had waited upon
the postmaster’s widow; and the cleanliness of her aprons soon became
proverbial in the neighbourhood. Uncle Gradelle was so charmed with this
pretty girl that sometimes, as he was stringing his sausages, he would
say to Quenu: “Upon my word, if I weren’t turned sixty, I think I should
be foolish enough to marry her. A wife like she’d make is worth her
weight in gold to a shopkeeper, my lad.”

Quenu himself was growing still fonder of her, though he laughed merrily
one day when a neighbour accused him of being in love with Lisa. He was
not worried with love-sickness. The two were very good friends, however.
In the evening they went up to their bedrooms together. Lisa slept in a
little chamber adjoining the dark hole which the young man occupied.
She had made this room of hers quite bright by hanging it with muslin
curtains. The pair would stand together for a moment on the landing,
holding their candles in their hands, and chatting as they unlocked
their doors. Then, as they closed them, they said in friendly tones:

“Good night, Mademoiselle Lisa.”

“Good night, Monsieur Quenu.”

As Quenu undressed himself he listened to Lisa making her own
preparations. The partition between the two rooms was very thin. “There,
she is drawing her curtains now,” he would say to himself; “what can she
be doing, I wonder, in front of her chest of drawers? Ah! she’s sitting
down now and taking off her shoes. Now she’s blown her candle out. Well,
good night. I must get to sleep”; and at times, when he heard her bed
creak as she got into it, he would say to himself with a smile, “Dash
it all! Mademoiselle Lisa is no feather.” This idea seemed to amuse him,
and presently he would fall asleep thinking about the hams and salt pork
that he had to prepare the next morning.

This state of affairs went on for a year without causing Lisa a single
blush or Quenu a moment’s embarrassment. When the girl came into the
kitchen in the morning at the busiest moment of the day’s work, they
grasped hands over the dishes of sausage-meat. Sometimes she helped him,
holding the skins with her plump fingers while he filled them with meat
and fat. Sometimes, too, with the tips of their tongues they just tasted
the raw sausage-meat, to see if it was properly seasoned. She was able
to give Quenu some useful hints, for she knew of many favourite southern
recipes, with which he experimented with much success. He was often
aware that she was standing behind his shoulder, prying into the pans.
If he wanted a spoon or a dish, she would hand it to him. The heat of
the fire would bring their blood to their skins; still, nothing in
the world would have induced the young man to cease stirring the fatty
_bouillis_ which were thickening over the fire while the girl stood
gravely by him, discussing the amount of boiling that was necessary.
In the afternoon, when the shop lacked customers, they quietly chatted
together for hours at a time. Lisa sat behind the counter, leaning back,
and knitting in an easy, regular fashion; while Quenu installed himself
on a big oak block, dangling his legs and tapping his heels against the
wood. They got on wonderfully well together, discussing all sorts of
subjects, generally cookery, and then Uncle Gradelle and the neighbours.
Lisa also amused the young man with stories, just as though he were a
child. She knew some very pretty ones--some miraculous legends, full of
lambs and little angels, which she narrated in a piping voice, with all
her wonted seriousness. If a customer happened to come in, she saved
herself the trouble of moving by asking Quenu to get the required pot of
lard or box of snails. And at eleven o’clock they went slowly up to
bed as on the previous night. As they closed their doors, they calmly
repeated the words:

“Good night, Mademoiselle Lisa.”

“Good night, Monsieur Quenu.”

One morning Uncle Gradelle was struck dead by apoplexy while preparing
a galantine. He fell forward, with his face against the chopping-block.
Lisa did not lose her self-possession. She remarked that the dead man
could not be left lying in the middle of the kitchen, and had the body
removed into a little back room where Gradelle had slept. Then she
arranged with the assistants what should be said. It must be given out
that the master had died in his bed; otherwise the whole district would
be disgusted, and the shop would lose its customers. Quenu helped to
carry the dead man away, feeling quite confused, and astonished at
being unable to shed any tears. Presently, however, he and Lisa cried
together. Quenu and his brother Florent were the sole heirs. The gossips
of the neighbourhood credited old Gradelle with the possession of a
considerable fortune. However, not a single crown could be discovered.
Lisa seemed very restless and uneasy. Quenu noticed how pensive she
became, how she kept on looking around her from morning till night, as
though she had lost something. At last she decided to have a thorough
cleaning of the premises, declaring that people were beginning to talk,
that the story of the old man’s death had got about, and that it was
necessary they should make a great show of cleanliness. One afternoon,
after remaining in the cellar for a couple of hours, whither she herself
had gone to wash the salting-tubs, she came up again, carrying something
in her apron. Quenu was just then cutting up a pig’s fry. She waited
till he had finished, talking awhile in an easy, indifferent fashion.
But there was an unusual glitter in her eyes, and she smiled her most
charming smile as she told him that she wanted to speak to him. She led
the way upstairs with seeming difficulty, impeded by what she had in her
apron, which was strained almost to bursting.

By the time she reached the third floor she found herself short of
breath, and for a moment was obliged to lean against the balustrade.
Quenu, much astonished, followed her into her bedroom without saying a
word. It was the first time she had ever invited him to enter it. She
closed the door, and letting go the corners of her apron, which her
stiffened fingers could no longer hold up, she allowed a stream of gold
and silver coins to flow gently upon her bed. She had discovered Uncle
Gradelle’s treasure at the bottom of a salting-tub. The heap of money
made a deep impression in the softy downy bed.

Lisa and Quenu evinced a quiet delight. They sat down on the edge of the
bed, Lisa at the head and Quenu at the foot, on either side of the heap
of coins, and they counted the money out upon the counterpane, so as to
avoid making any noise. There were forty thousand francs in gold, and
three thousand francs in silver, whilst in a tin box they found bank
notes to the value of forty-two thousand francs. It took them two hours
to count up the treasure. Quenu’s hands trembled slightly, and it was
Lisa who did most of the work.

They arranged the gold on the pillow in little heaps, leaving the silver
in the hollow depression of the counterpane. When they had ascertained
the total amount--eighty-five thousand francs, to them an enormous
sum--they began to chat. And their conversation naturally turned upon
their future, and they spoke of their marriage, although there had never
been any previous mention of love between them. But this heap of money
seemed to loosen their tongues. They had gradually seated themselves
further back on the bed, leaning against the wall, beneath the white
muslin curtains; and as they talked together, their hands, playing with
the heap of silver between them, met, and remained linked amidst
the pile of five-franc pieces. Twilight surprised them still sitting
together. Then, for the first time, Lisa blushed at finding the young
man by her side. For a few moments, indeed, although not a thought of
evil had come to them, they felt much embarrassed. Then Lisa went to
get her own ten thousand francs. Quenu wanted her to put them with his
uncle’s savings. He mixed the two sums together, saying with a laugh
that the money must be married also. Then it was agreed that Lisa should
keep the hoard in her chest of drawers. When she had locked it up they
both quietly went downstairs. They were now practically husband and

The wedding took place during the following month. The neighbours
considered the match a very natural one, and in every way suitable. They
had vaguely heard the story of the treasure, and Lisa’s honesty was the
subject of endless eulogy. After all, said the gossips, she might well
have kept the money herself, and not have spoken a word to Quenu about
it; if she had spoken, it was out of pure honesty, for no one had seen
her find the hoard. She well deserved, they added, that Quenu should
make her his wife. That Quenu, by the way, was a lucky fellow; he
wasn’t a beauty himself, yet he had secured a beautiful wife, who had
disinterred a fortune for him. Some even went so far as to whisper that
Lisa was a simpleton for having acted as she had done; but the young
woman only smiled when people speaking to her vaguely alluded to all
these things. She and her husband lived on as previously, in happy
placidity and quiet affection. She still assisted him as before, their
hands still met amidst the sausage-meat, she still glanced over his
shoulder into the pots and pans, and still nothing but the great fire in
the kitchen brought the blood to their cheeks.

However, Lisa was a woman of practical common sense, and speedily saw
the folly of allowing eighty-five thousand francs to lie idle in a chest
of drawers. Quenu would have willingly stowed them away again at the
bottom of the salting-tub until he had gained as much more, when they
could have retired from business and have gone to live at Suresnes, a
suburb to which both were partial. Lisa, however, had other ambitions.
The Rue Pirouette did not accord with her ideas of cleanliness, her
craving for fresh air, light, and healthy life. The shop where Uncle
Gradelle had accumulated his fortune, sou by sou, was a long, dark
place, one of those suspicious looking pork butchers’ shops of the old
quarters of the city, where the well-worn flagstones retain a strong
odour of meat in spite of constant washings. Now the young woman longed
for one of those bright modern shops, ornamented like a drawing-room,
and fringing the footway of some broad street with windows of
crystalline transparence. She was not actuated by any petty ambition to
play the fine lady behind a stylish counter, but clearly realised that
commerce in its latest development needed elegant surroundings. Quenu
showed much alarm the first time his wife suggested that they ought to
move and spend some of their money in decorating a new shop. However,
Lisa only shrugged her shoulders and smiled at finding him so timorous.

One evening, when night was falling and the shop had grown dark, Quenu
and Lisa overheard a woman of the neighbourhood talking to a friend
outside their door.

“No, indeed! I’ve given up dealing with them,” said she. “I wouldn’t buy
a bit of black-pudding from them now on any account. They had a dead man
in their kitchen, you know.”

Quenu wept with vexation. The story of Gradelle’s death in the kitchen
was clearly getting about; and his nephew began to blush before his
customers when he saw them sniffing his wares too closely. So, of his
own accord, he spoke to his wife of her proposal to take a new shop.
Lisa, without saying anything, had already been looking out for other
premises, and had found some, admirably situated, only a few yards
away, in the Rue Rambuteau. The immediate neighbourhood of the central
markets, which were being opened just opposite, would triple their
business, and make their shop known all over Paris.

Quenu allowed himself to be drawn into a lavish expenditure of money; he
laid out over thirty thousand francs in marble, glass, and gilding.
Lisa spent hours with the workmen, giving her views about the slightest
details. When she was at last installed behind the counter, customers
arrived in a perfect procession, merely for the sake of examining the
shop. The inside walls were lined from top to bottom with white marble.
The ceiling was covered with a huge square mirror, framed by a broad
gilded cornice, richly ornamented, whilst from the centre hung a crystal
chandelier with four branches. And behind the counter, and on the left,
and at the far end of the shop were other mirrors, fitted between the
marble panels and looking like doors opening into an infinite series
of brightly lighted halls, where all sorts of appetising edibles were
displayed. The huge counter on the right hand was considered a very fine
piece of work. At intervals along the front were lozenge-shaped panels
of pinky marble. The flooring was of tiles, alternately white and pink,
with a deep red fretting as border. The whole neighbourhood was proud
of the shop, and no one again thought of referring to the kitchen in
the Rue Pirouette, where a man had died. For quite a month women stopped
short on the footway to look at Lisa between the saveloys and bladders
in the window. Her white and pink flesh excited as much admiration as
the marbles. She seemed to be the soul, the living light, the healthy,
sturdy idol of the pork trade; and thenceforth one and all baptised her
“Lisa the beauty.”

To the right of the shop was the dining-room, a neat looking apartment
containing a sideboard, a table, and several cane-seated chairs of light
oak. The matting on the floor, the wallpaper of a soft yellow tint, the
oil-cloth table-cover, coloured to imitate oak, gave the room a somewhat
cold appearance, which was relieved only by the glitter of a brass
hanging lamp, suspended from the ceiling, and spreading its big shade
of transparent porcelain over the table. One of the dining-room doors
opened into the huge square kitchen, at the end of which was a small
paved courtyard, serving for the storage of lumber--tubs, barrels
and pans, and all kinds of utensils not in use. To the left of the
water-tap, alongside the gutter which carried off the greasy water,
stood pots of faded flowers, removed from the shop window, and slowly

Business was excellent. Quenu, who had been much alarmed by the initial
outlay, now regarded his wife with something like respect, and told his
friends that she had “a wonderful head.” At the end of five years they
had nearly eighty thousand francs invested in the State funds. Lisa
would say that they were not ambitious, that they had no desire to pile
up money too quickly, or else she would have enabled her husband to
gain hundreds and thousands of francs by prompting him to embark in the
wholesale pig trade. But they were still young, and had plenty of
time before them; besides, they didn’t care about a rough, scrambling
business, but preferred to work at their ease, and enjoy life, instead
of wearing themselves out with endless anxieties.

“For instance,” Lisa would add in her expansive moments, “I have, you
know, a cousin in Paris. I never see him, as the two families have
fallen out. He has taken the name of Saccard,[*] on account of certain
matters which he wants to be forgotten. Well, this cousin of mine, I’m
told, makes millions and millions of francs; but he gets no enjoyment
out of life. He’s always in a state of feverish excitement, always
rushing hither and thither, up to his neck in all sorts of worrying
business. Well, it’s impossible, isn’t it, for such a man to eat his
dinner peaceably in the evening? We, at any rate, can take our meals
comfortably, and make sure of what we eat, and we are not harassed by
worries as he is. The only reason why people should care for money
is that money’s wanted for one to live. People like comfort; that’s
natural. But as for making money simply for the sake of making it, and
giving yourself far more trouble and anxiety to gain it than you can
ever get pleasure from it when it’s gained, why, as for me, I’d rather
sit still and cross my arms. And besides, I should like to see all those
millions of my cousin’s. I can’t say that I altogether believe in
them. I caught sight of him the other day in his carriage. He was quite
yellow, and looked ever so sly. A man who’s making money doesn’t have
that kind of expression. But it’s his business, and not mine. For our
part, we prefer to make merely a hundred sous at a time, and to get a
hundred sous’ worth of enjoyment out of them.”

[*] See M. Zola’s novel, _Money_.

The household was undoubtedly thriving. A daughter had been born to the
young couple during their first year of wedlock, and all three of
them looked blooming. The business went on prosperously, without any
laborious fatigue, just as Lisa desired. She had carefully kept free of
any possible source of trouble or anxiety, and the days went by in an
atmosphere of peaceful, unctuous prosperity. Their home was a nook of
sensible happiness--a comfortable manger, so to speak, where father,
mother, and daughter could grow sleek and fat. It was only Quenu who
occasionally felt sad, through thinking of his brother Florent. Up to
the year 1856 he had received letters from him at long intervals. Then
no more came, and he had learned from a newspaper that three convicts
having attempted to escape from the Ile du Diable, had been drowned
before they were able to reach the mainland. He had made inquiries
at the Prefecture of Police, but had not learnt anything definite; it
seemed probable that his brother was dead. However, he did not lose
all hope, though months passed without any tidings. Florent, in the
meantime, was wandering about Dutch Guiana, and refrained from writing
home as he was ever in hope of being able to return to France. Quenu at
last began to mourn for him as one mourns for those whom one has been
unable to bid farewell. Lisa had never known Florent, but she spoke
very kindly whenever she saw her husband give way to his sorrow; and
she evinced no impatience when for the hundredth time or so he began to
relate stories of his early days, of his life in the big room in the
Rue Royer Collard, the thirty-six trades which he had taken up one after
another, and the dainties which he had cooked at the stove, dressed all
in white, while Florent was dressed all in black. To such talk as this,
indeed, she listened placidly, with a complacency which never wearied.

It was into the midst of all this happiness, ripening after careful
culture, that Florent dropped one September morning just as Lisa was
taking her matutinal bath of sunshine, and Quenu, with his eyes still
heavy with sleep, was lazily applying his fingers to the congealed fat
left in the pans from the previous evening. Florent’s arrival caused
a great commotion. Gavard advised them to conceal the “outlaw,” as
he somewhat pompously called Florent. Lisa, who looked pale, and more
serious than was her wont, at last took him to the fifth floor, where
she gave him the room belonging to the girl who assisted her in the
shop. Quenu had cut some slices of bread and ham, but Florent was
scarcely able to eat. He was overcome by dizziness and nausea, and went
to bed, where he remained for five days in a state of delirium,
the outcome of an attack of brain-fever, which fortunately received
energetic treatment. When he recovered consciousness he perceived Lisa
sitting by his bedside, silently stirring some cooling drink in a cup.
As he tried to thank her, she told him that he must keep perfectly
quiet, and that they could talk together later on. At the end of another
three days Florent was on his feet again. Then one morning Quenu went up
to tell him that Lisa awaited them in her room on the first floor.

Quenu and his wife there occupied a suite of three rooms and a
dressing-room. You first passed through an antechamber, containing
nothing but chairs, and then a small sitting-room, whose furniture,
shrouded in white covers, slumbered in the gloom cast by the Venetian
shutters, which were always kept closed so as to prevent the light blue
of the upholstery from fading. Then came the bedroom, the only one of
the three which was really used. It was very comfortably furnished in
mahogany. The bed, bulky and drowsy of aspect in the depths of the
damp alcove, was really wonderful, with its four mattresses, its four
pillows, its layers of blankets, and its corpulent _edredon_. It was
evidently a bed intended for slumber. A mirrored wardrobe, a washstand
with drawers, a small central table with a worked cover, and several
chairs whose seats were protected by squares of lace, gave the room an
aspect of plain but substantial middle-class luxury. On the left-hand
wall, on either side of the mantelpiece, which was ornamented with some
landscape-painted vases mounted on bronze stands, and a gilt timepiece
on which a figure of Gutenberg, also gilt, stood in an attitude of
deep thought, hung portraits in oils of Quenu and Lisa, in ornate
oval frames. Quenu had a smiling face, while Lisa wore an air of grave
propriety; and both were dressed in black and depicted in flattering
fashion, their features idealised, their skins wondrously smooth,
their complexions soft and pinky. A carpet, in the Wilton style, with
a complicated pattern of roses mingling with stars, concealed the
flooring; while in front of the bed was a fluffy mat, made out of long
pieces of curly wool, a work of patience at which Lisa herself had
toiled while seated behind her counter. But the most striking object
of all in the midst of this array of new furniture was a great square,
thick-set secretaire, which had been re-polished in vain, for the cracks
and notches in the marble top and the scratches on the old mahogany
front, quite black with age, still showed plainly. Lisa had desired to
retain this piece of furniture, however, as Uncle Gradelle had used it
for more than forty years. It would bring them good luck, she said. It’s
metal fastenings were truly something terrible, it’s lock was like that
of a prison gate, and it was so heavy that it could scarcely be moved.

When Florent and Quenu entered the room they found Lisa seated at the
lowered desk of the secretaire, writing and putting down figures in a
big, round, and very legible hand. She signed to them not to disturb
her, and the two men sat down. Florent looked round the room, and
notably at the two portraits, the bed and the timepiece, with an air of

“There!” at last exclaimed Lisa, after having carefully verified a whole
page of calculations. “Listen to me now; we have an account to render to
you, my dear Florent.”

It was the first time that she had so addressed him. However, taking up
the page of figures, she continued: “Your Uncle Gradelle died without
leaving a will. Consequently you and your brother are his sole heirs. We
now have to hand your share over to you.”

“But I do not ask you for anything!” exclaimed Florent, “I don’t wish
for anything!”

Quenu had apparently been in ignorance of his wife’s intentions. He
turned rather pale and looked at her with an expression of displeasure.
Of course, he certainly loved his brother dearly; but there was no
occasion to hurl his uncle’s money at him in this way. There would have
been plenty of time to go into the matter later on.

“I know very well, my dear Florent,” continued Lisa, “that you did not
come back with the intention of claiming from us what belongs to you;
but business is business, you know, and we had better get things settled
at once. Your uncle’s savings amounted to eighty-five thousand francs. I
have therefore put down forty-two thousand five hundred to your credit.

She showed him the figures on the sheet of paper.

“It is unfortunately not so easy to value the shop, plant,
stock-in-trade, and goodwill. I have only been able to put down
approximate amounts, but I don’t think I have underestimated anything.
Well, the total valuation which I have made comes to fifteen thousand
three hundred and ten francs; your half of which is seven thousand six
hundred and fifty-five francs, so that your share amounts, in all, to
fifty thousand one hundred and fifty-five francs. Please verify it for
yourself, will you?”

She had called out the figures in a clear, distinct voice, and she now
handed the paper to Florent, who was obliged to take it.

“But the old man’s business was certainly never worth fifteen thousand
francs!” cried Quenu. “Why, I wouldn’t have given ten thousand for it!”

He had ended by getting quite angry with his wife. Really, it was absurd
to carry honesty to such a point as that! Had Florent said one word
about the business? No, indeed, he had declared that he didn’t wish for

“The business was worth fifteen thousand three hundred and ten francs,”
 Lisa re-asserted, calmly. “You will agree with me, my dear Florent, that
it is quite unnecessary to bring a lawyer into our affairs. It is for us
to arrange the division between ourselves, since you have now turned up
again. I naturally thought of this as soon as you arrived; and, while
you were in bed with the fever, I did my best to draw up this little
inventory. It contains, as you see, a fairly complete statement of
everything. I have been through our old books, and have called up my
memory to help me. Read it aloud, and I will give you any additional
information you may want.”

Florent ended by smiling. He was touched by this easy and, as it were,
natural display of probity. Placing the sheet of figures on the young
woman’s knee, he took hold of her hand and said, “I am very glad, my
dear Lisa, to hear that you are prosperous, but I will not take your
money. The heritage belongs to you and my brother, who took care of my
uncle up to the last. I don’t require anything, and I don’t intend to
hamper you in carrying on your business.”

Lisa insisted, and even showed some vexation, while Quenu gnawed his
thumbs in silence to restrain himself.

“Ah!” resumed Florent with a laugh, “if Uncle Gradelle could hear you,
I think he’d come back and take the money away again. I was never a
favourite of his, you know.”

“Well, no,” muttered Quenu, no longer able to keep still, “he certainly
wasn’t over fond of you.”

Lisa, however, still pressed the matter. She did not like to have money
in her secretaire that did not belong to her; it would worry her, said
she; the thought of it would disturb her peace. Thereupon Florent, still
in a joking way, proposed to invest his share in the business. Moreover,
said he, he did not intend to refuse their help; he would, no doubt, be
unable to find employment all at once; and then, too, he would need a
complete outfit, for he was scarcely presentable.

“Of course,” cried Quenu, “you will board and lodge with us, and we will
buy you all that you want. That’s understood. You know very well that we
are not likely to leave you in the streets, I hope!”

He was quite moved now, and even felt a trifle ashamed of the alarm he
had experienced at the thought of having to hand over a large amount of
money all at once. He began to joke, and told his brother that he would
undertake to fatten him. Florent gently shook his hand; while Lisa
folded up the sheet of figures and put it away in a drawer of the

“You are wrong,” she said by way of conclusion. “I have done what I was
bound to do. Now it shall be as you wish. But, for my part, I should
never have had a moment’s peace if I had not put things before you. Bad
thoughts would quite upset me.”

They then began to speak of another matter. It would be necessary to
give some reason for Florent’s presence, and at the same time avoid
exciting the suspicion of the police. He told them that in order to
return to France he had availed himself of the papers of a poor fellow
who had died in his arms at Surinam from yellow fever. By a singular
coincidence this young fellow’s Christian name was Florent.

Florent Laquerriere, to give him his name in full, had left but one
relation in Paris, a female cousin, and had been informed of her death
while in America. Nothing could therefore be easier than for Quenu’s
half brother to pass himself off as the man who had died at Surinam.
Lisa offered to take upon herself the part of the female cousin. They
then agreed to relate that their cousin Florent had returned from
abroad, where he had failed in his attempts to make a fortune, and that
they, the Quenu-Gradelles, as they were called in the neighbourhood, had
received him into their house until he could find suitable employment.
When this was all settled, Quenu insisted upon his brother making
a thorough inspection of the rooms, and would not spare him the
examination of a single stool. Whilst they were in the bare looking
chamber containing nothing but chairs, Lisa pushed open a door, and
showing Florent a small dressing room, told him that the shop girl
should sleep in it, so that he could retain the bedroom on the fifth

In the evening Florent was arrayed in new clothes from head to foot.
He had insisted upon again having a black coat and black trousers, much
against the advice of Quenu, upon whom black had a depressing effect.
No further attempts were made to conceal his presence in the house, and
Lisa told the story which had been planned to everyone who cared to
hear it. Henceforth Florent spent almost all his time on the premises,
lingering on a chair in the kitchen or leaning against the marble-work
in the shop. At meal times Quenu plied him with food, and evinced
considerable vexation when he proved such a small eater and left half
the contents of his liberally filled plate untouched. Lisa had resumed
her old life, evincing a kindly tolerance of her brother-in-law’s
presence, even in the morning, when he somewhat interfered with the
work. Then she would momentarily forget him, and on suddenly perceiving
his black form in front of her give a slight start of surprise,
followed, however, by one of her sweet smiles, lest he might feel at
all hurt. This skinny man’s disinterestedness had impressed her, and she
regarded him with a feeling akin to respect, mingled with vague fear.
Florent had for his part only felt that there was great affection around

When bedtime came he went upstairs, a little wearied by his lazy day,
with the two young men whom Quenu employed as assistants, and who slept
in attics adjoining his own. Leon, the apprentice, was barely fifteen
years of age. He was a slight, gentle looking lad, addicted to stealing
stray slices of ham and bits of sausages. These he would conceal under
his pillow, eating them during the night without any bread. Several
times at about one o’clock in the morning Florent almost fancied that
Leon was giving a supper-party; for he heard low whispering followed by
a sound of munching jaws and rustling paper. And then a rippling girlish
laugh would break faintly on the deep silence of the sleeping house like
the soft trilling of a flageolet.

The other assistant, Auguste Landois, came from Troyes. Bloated with
unhealthy fat, he had too large a head, and was already bald, although
only twenty-eight years of age. As he went upstairs with Florent on the
first evening, he told him his story in a confused, garrulous way. He
had at first come to Paris merely for the purpose of perfecting himself
in the business, intending to return to Troyes, where his cousin,
Augustine Landois, was waiting for him, and there setting up for himself
as a pork butcher. He and she had had the game godfather and bore
virtually the same Christian name. However, he had grown ambitious; and
now hoped to establish himself in business in Paris by the aid of the
money left him by his mother, which he had deposited with a notary
before leaving Champagne.

Auguste had got so far in his narrative when the fifth floor was
reached; however, he still detained Florent, in order to sound the
praises of Madame Quenu, who had consented to send for Augustine Landois
to replace an assistant who had turned out badly. He himself was now
thoroughly acquainted with his part of the business, and his cousin was
perfecting herself in shop management. In a year or eighteen months they
would be married, and then they would set up on their own account in
some populous corner of Paris, at Plaisance most likely. They were in no
great hurry, he added, for the bacon trade was very bad that year.
Then he proceeded to tell Florent that he and his cousin had been
photographed together at the fair of St. Ouen, and he entered the attic
to have another look at the photograph, which Augustine had left on
the mantelpiece, in her desire that Madame Quenu’s cousin should have a
pretty room. Auguste lingered there for a moment, looking quite livid
in the dim yellow light of his candle, and casting his eyes around the
little chamber which was still full of memorials of the young girl.
Next, stepping up to the bed, he asked Florent if it was comfortable.
His cousin slept below now, said he, and would be better there in the
winter, for the attics were very cold. Then at last he went off, leaving
Florent alone with the bed, and standing in front of the photograph.
As shown on the latter Auguste looked like a sort of pale Quenu, and
Augustine like an immature Lisa.

Florent, although on friendly terms with the assistants, petted by his
brother, and cordially treated by Lisa, presently began to feel very
bored. He had tried, but without success, to obtain some pupils;
moreover, he purposely avoided the students’ quarter for fear of being
recognised. Lisa gently suggested to him that he had better try to
obtain a situation in some commercial house, where he could take charge
of the correspondence and keep the books. She returned to this subject
again and again, and at last offered to find a berth for him herself.
She was gradually becoming impatient at finding him so often in her way,
idle, and not knowing what to do with himself. At first this impatience
was merely due to the dislike she felt of people who do nothing but
cross their arms and eat, and she had no thought of reproaching him for
consuming her substance.

“For my own part,” she would say to him, “I could never spend the whole
day in dreamy lounging. You can’t have any appetite for your meals. You
ought to tire yourself.”

Gavard, also, was seeking a situation for Florent, but in a very
extraordinary and most mysterious fashion. He would have liked to find
some employment of a dramatic character, or in which there should be a
touch of bitter irony, as was suitable for an outlaw. Gavard was a man
who was always in opposition. He had just completed his fiftieth year,
and he boasted that he had already passed judgment on four Governments.
He still contemptuously shrugged his shoulders at the thought of Charles
X, the priests and nobles and other attendant rabble, whom he had helped
to sweep away. Louis Philippe, with his bourgeois following, had been an
imbecile, and he could tell how the citizen-king had hoarded his coppers
in a woollen stocking. As for the Republic of ‘48, that had been a
mere farce, the working classes had deceived him; however, he no longer
acknowledged that he had applauded the Coup d’Etat, for he now looked
upon Napoleon III as his personal enemy, a scoundrel who shut himself
up with Morny and others to indulge in gluttonous orgies. He was never
weary of holding forth upon this subject. Lowering his voice a little,
he would declare that women were brought to the Tuileries in closed
carriages every evening, and that he, who was speaking, had one night
heard the echoes of the orgies while crossing the Place du Carrousel. It
was Gavard’s religion to make himself as disagreeable as possible to any
existing Government. He would seek to spite it in all sorts of ways,
and laugh in secret for several months at the pranks he played. To begin
with, he voted for candidates who would worry the Ministers at the Corps
Legislatif. Then, if he could rob the revenue, or baffle the police, and
bring about a row of some kind or other, he strove to give the affair as
much of an insurrectionary character as possible. He told a great many
lies, too; set himself up as being a very dangerous man; talked as
though “the satellites of the Tuileries” were well acquainted with him
and trembled at the sight of him; and asserted that one half of them
must be guillotined, and the other half transported, the next time there
was “a flare-up.” His violent political creed found food in boastful,
bragging talk of this sort; he displayed all the partiality for a
lark and a rumpus which prompts a Parisian shopkeeper to take down
his shutters on a day of barricade-fighting to get a good view of the
corpses of the slain. When Florent returned from Cayenne, Gavard opined
that he had got hold of a splendid chance for some abominable trick, and
bestowed much thought upon the question of how he might best vent his
spleen on the Emperor and Ministers and everyone in office, down to the
very lowest police constable.

Gavard’s manners with Florent were altogether those of a man tasting
some forbidden pleasure. He contemplated him with blinking eyes, lowered
his voice even when making the most trifling remark, and grasped his
hand with all sorts of masonic flummery. He had at last lighted upon
something in the way of an adventure; he had a friend who was really
compromised, and could, without falsehood speak of the dangers he
incurred. He undoubtedly experienced a secret alarm at the sight of
this man who had returned from transportation, and whose fleshlessness
testified to the long sufferings he had endured; however, this touch of
alarm was delightful, for it increased his notion of his own importance,
and convinced him that he was really doing something wonderful in
treating a dangerous character as a friend. Florent became a sort of
sacred being in his eyes: he swore by him alone, and had recourse to his
name whenever arguments failed him and he wanted to crush the Government
once and for all.

Gavard had lost his wife in the Rue Saint Jacques some months after the
Coup d’Etat; however, he had kept on his roasting shop till 1856. At
that time it was reported that he had made large sums of money by going
into partnership with a neighbouring grocer who had obtained a contract
for supplying dried vegetables to the Crimean expeditionary corps. The
truth was, however, that, having sold his shop, he lived on his income
for a year without doing anything. He himself did not care to talk
about the real origin of his fortune, for to have revealed it would have
prevented him from plainly expressing his opinion of the Crimean War,
which he referred to as a mere adventurous expedition, “undertaken
simply to consolidate the throne and to fill certain persons’ pockets.”
 At the end of a year he had grown utterly weary of life in his bachelor
quarters. As he was in the habit of visiting the Quenu-Gradelles almost
daily, he determined to take up his residence nearer to them, and came
to live in the Rue de la Cossonnerie. The neighbouring markets, with
their noisy uproar and endless chatter, quite fascinated him; and he
decided to hire a stall in the poultry pavilion, just for the purpose
of amusing himself and occupying his idle hours with all the gossip.
Thenceforth he lived amidst ceaseless tittle-tattle, acquainted with
every little scandal in the neighbourhood, his head buzzing with
the incessant yelping around him. He blissfully tasted a thousand
titillating delights, having at last found his true element, and bathing
in it, with the voluptuous pleasure of a carp swimming in the sunshine.
Florent would sometimes go to see him at his stall. The afternoons were
still very warm. All along the narrow alleys sat women plucking
poultry. Rays of light streamed in between the awnings, and in the
warm atmosphere, in the golden dust of the sunbeams, feathers fluttered
hither and thither like dancing snowflakes. A trail of coaxing calls and
offers followed Florent as he passed along. “Can I sell you a fine duck,
monsieur?” “I’ve some very fine fat chickens here, monsieur; come and
see!” “Monsieur! monsieur, do just buy this pair of pigeons!” Deafened
and embarrassed he freed himself from the women, who still went on
plucking as they fought for possession of him; and the fine down flew
about and wellnigh choked him, like hot smoke reeking with the strong
odour of the poultry. At last, in the middle of the alley, near the
water-taps, he found Gavard ranting away in his shirt-sleeves, in front
of his stall, with his arms crossed over the bib of his blue apron. He
reigned there, in a gracious, condescending way, over a group of ten or
twelve women. He was the only male dealer in that part of the market.
He was so fond of wagging his tongue that he had quarrelled with five or
six girls whom he had successively engaged to attend to his stall, and
had now made up his mind to sell his goods himself, naively explaining
that the silly women spent the whole blessed day in gossiping, and that
it was beyond his power to manage them. As someone, however, was still
necessary to supply his place whenever he absented himself he took in
Marjolin, who was prowling about, after attempting in turn all the petty
market callings.

Florent sometimes remained for an hour with Gavard, amazed by his
ceaseless flow of chatter, and his calm serenity and assurance amid the
crowd of petticoats. He would interrupt one woman, pick a quarrel with
another ten stalls away, snatch a customer from a third, and make as
much noise himself as his hundred and odd garrulous neighbours, whose
incessant clamour kept the iron plates of the pavilion vibrating
sonorously like so many gongs.

The poultry dealer’s only relations were a sister-in-law and a niece.
When his wife died, her eldest sister, Madame Lecoeur, who had become
a widow about a year previously, had mourned for her in an exaggerated
fashion, and gone almost every evening to tender consolation to the
bereaved husband. She had doubtless cherished the hope that she might
win his affection and fill the yet warm place of the deceased. Gavard,
however, abominated lean women; and would, indeed, only stroke such
cats and dogs as were very fat; so that Madame Lecoeur, who was long and
withered, failed in her designs.

With her feelings greatly hurt, furious at the ex-roaster’s five-franc
pieces eluding her grasp, she nurtured great spite against him. He
became the enemy to whom she devoted all her time. When she saw him
set up in the markets only a few yards away from the pavilion where she
herself sold butter and eggs and cheese, she accused him of doing so
simply for the sake of annoying her and bringing her bad luck. From that
moment she began to lament, and turned so yellow and melancholy that she
indeed ended by losing her customers and getting into difficulties. She
had for a long time kept with her the daughter of one of her sisters,
a peasant woman who had sent her the child and then taken no further
trouble about it.

This child grew up in the markets. Her surname was Sarriet, and so she
soon became generally known as La Sarriette. At sixteen years of age she
had developed into such a charming sly-looking puss that gentlemen came
to buy cheeses at her aunt’s stall simply for the purpose of ogling her.
She did not care for the gentlemen, however; with her dark hair, pale
face, and eyes glistening like live embers, her sympathies were with the
lower ranks of the people. At last she chose as her lover a young man
from Menilmontant who was employed by her aunt as a porter. At twenty
she set up in business as a fruit dealer with the help of some funds
procured no one knew how; and thenceforth Monsieur Jules, as her lover
was called, displayed spotless hands, a clean blouse, and a velvet cap;
and only came down to the market in the afternoon, in his slippers.
They lived together on the third storey of a large house in the Rue
Vauvilliers, on the ground floor of which was a disreputable cafe.

Madame Lecoeur’s acerbity of temper was brought to a pitch by what she
called La Sarriette’s ingratitude, and she spoke of the girl in the most
violent and abusive language. They broke off all intercourse, the aunt
fairly exasperated, and the niece and Monsieur Jules concocting stories
about the aunt, which the young man would repeat to the other dealers
in the butter pavilion. Gavard found La Sarriette very entertaining,
and treated her with great indulgence. Whenever they met he would
good-naturedly pat her cheeks.

One afternoon, whilst Florent was sitting in his brother’s shop, tired
out with the fruitless pilgrimages he had made during the morning in
search of work, Marjolin made his appearance there. This big lad,
who had the massiveness and gentleness of a Fleming, was a protege of
Lisa’s. She would say that there was no evil in him; that he was
indeed a little bit stupid, but as strong as a horse, and particularly
interesting from the fact that nobody knew anything of his parentage. It
was she who had got Gavard to employ him.

Lisa was sitting behind the counter, feeling annoyed by the sight of
Florent’s muddy boots which were soiling the pink and white tiles of the
flooring. Twice already had she risen to scatter sawdust about the shop.
However, she smiled at Marjolin as he entered.

“Monsieur Gavard,” began the young man, “has sent me to ask--”

But all at once he stopped and glanced round; then in a lower voice he
resumed: “He told me to wait till there was no one with you, and then to
repeat these words, which he made me learn by heart: ‘Ask them if there
is no danger, and if I can come and talk to them of the matter they know

“Tell Monsieur Gavard that we are expecting him,” replied Lisa, who was
quite accustomed to the poultry dealer’s mysterious ways.

Marjolin, however, did not go away; but remained in ecstasy before the
handsome mistress of the shop, contemplating her with an expression of
fawning humility.

Touched, as it were, by this mute adoration, Lisa spoke to him again.

“Are you comfortable with Monsieur Gavard?” she asked. “He’s not an
unkind man, and you ought to try to please him.”

“Yes, Madame Lisa.”

“But you don’t behave as you should, you know. Only yesterday I saw you
clambering about the roofs of the market again; and, besides, you are
constantly with a lot of disreputable lads and lasses. You ought to
remember that you are a man now, and begin to think of the future.”

“Yes, Madame Lisa.”

However, Lisa had to get up to wait upon a lady who came in and wanted
a pound of pork chops. She left the counter and went to the block at
the far end of the shop. Here, with a long, slender knife, she cut three
chops in a loin of pork; and then, raising a small cleaver with her
strong hand, dealt three sharp blows which separated the chops from
the loin. At each blow she dealt, her black merino dress rose slightly
behind her, and the ribs of her stays showed beneath her tightly
stretched bodice. She slowly took up the chops and weighed them with an
air of gravity, her eyes gleaming and her lips tightly closed.

When the lady had gone, and Lisa perceived Marjolin still full of
delight at having seen her deal those three clean, forcible blows with
the cleaver, she at once called out to him, “What! haven’t you gone

He thereupon turned to go, but she detained him for a moment longer.

“Now, don’t let me see you again with that hussy Cadine,” she said. “Oh,
it’s no use to deny it! I saw you together this morning in the tripe
market, watching men breaking the sheep’s heads. I can’t understand
what attraction a good-looking young fellow like you can find in such a
slipshod slattern as Cadine. Now then, go and tell Monsieur Gavard that
he had better come at once, while there’s no one about.”

Marjolin thereupon went off in confusion, without saying a word.

Handsome Lisa remained standing behind her counter, with her head turned
slightly in the direction of her markets, and Florent gazed at her in
silence, surprised to see her looking so beautiful. He had never looked
at her properly before; indeed, he did not know the right way to look at
a woman. He now saw her rising above the viands on the counter. In front
of her was an array of white china dishes, containing long Arles and
Lyons sausages, slices of which had already been cut off, with tongues
and pieces of boiled pork; then a pig’s head in a mass of jelly; an open
pot of preserved sausage-meat, and a large box of sardines disclosing a
pool of oil. On the right and left, upon wooden platters, were mounds
of French and Italian brawn, a common French ham, of a pinky hue, and a
Yorkshire ham, whose deep red lean showed beneath a broad band of fat.
There were other dishes too, round ones and oval ones, containing spiced
tongue, truffled galantine, and a boar’s head stuffed with pistachio
nuts; while close to her, in reach of her hand, stood some yellow
earthen pans containing larded veal, _pate de foie gras_, and hare-pie.

As there were no signs of Gavard’s coming, she arranged some fore-end
bacon upon a little marble shelf at the end of the counter, put the jars
of lard and dripping back into their places, wiped the plates of each
pair of scales, and saw to the fire of the heater, which was getting
low. Then she turned her head again, and gazed in silence towards
the markets. The smell of all the viands ascended around her, she was
enveloped, as it were, by the aroma of truffles. She looked beautifully
fresh that afternoon. The whiteness of all the dishes was supplemented
by that of her sleevelets and apron, above which appeared her plump
neck and rosy cheeks, which recalled the soft tones of the hams and the
pallor of all the transparent fat.

As Florent continued to gaze at her he began to feel intimidated,
disquieted by her prim, sedate demeanour; and in lieu of openly looking
at her he ended by glancing surreptitiously in the mirrors around the
shop, in which her back and face and profile could be seen. The mirror
on the ceiling, too, reflected the top of her head, with its tightly
rolled chignon and the little bands lowered over her temples. There
seemed, indeed, to be a perfect crowd of Lisas, with broad shoulders,
powerful arms, and round, full bosoms. At last Florent checked his
roving eyes, and let them rest on a particularly pleasing side view of
the young woman as mirrored between two pieces of pork. From the hooks
running along the whole line of mirrors and marbles hung sides of pork
and bands of larding fat; and Lisa, with her massive neck, rounded hips,
and swelling bosom seen in profile, looked like some waxwork queen in
the midst of the dangling fat and meat. However, she bent forward and
smiled in a friendly way at the two gold-fish which were ever and ever
swimming round the aquarium in the window.

Gavard entered the shop. With an air of great importance he went to
fetch Quenu from the kitchen. Then he seated himself upon a small
marble-topped table, while Florent remained on his chair and Lisa behind
the counter; Quenu meantime leaning his back against a side of pork.
And thereupon Gavard announced that he had at last found a situation for
Florent. They would be vastly amused when they heard what it was, and
the Government would be nicely caught.

But all at once he stopped short, for a passing neighbour, Mademoiselle
Saget, having seen such a large party gossiping together at the
Quenu-Gradelles’, had opened the door and entered the shop. Carrying
her everlasting black ribbonless straw hat, which appropriately cast a
shadow over her prying white face, she saluted the men with a slight bow
and Lisa with a sharp smile.

She was an acquaintance of the family, and still lived in the house
in the Rue Pirouette where she had resided for the last forty years,
probably on a small private income; but of that she never spoke. She
had, however, one day talked of Cherbourg, mentioning that she had been
born there. Nothing further was ever known of her antecedents. All her
conversation was about other people; she could tell the whole story of
their daily lives, even to the number of things they sent to be
washed each month; and she carried her prying curiosity concerning her
neighbours’ affairs so far as to listen behind their doors and open
their letters. Her tongue was feared from the Rue Saint Denis to the
Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and from the Rue Saint Honore to the Rue
Mauconseil. All day long she went ferreting about with her empty bag,
pretending that she was marketing, but in reality buying nothing, as her
sole purpose was to retail scandal and gossip, and keep herself fully
informed of every trifling incident that happened. Indeed, she had
turned her brain into an encyclopaedia brimful of every possible
particular concerning the people of the neighbourhood and their homes.

Quenu had always accused her of having spread the story of his Uncle
Gradelle’s death on the chopping-block, and had borne her a grudge ever
since. She was extremely well posted in the history of Uncle Gradelle
and the Quenus, and knew them, she would say, by heart. For the last
fortnight, however, Florent’s arrival had greatly perplexed her, filled
her, indeed, with a perfect fever of curiosity. She became quite ill
when she discovered any unforeseen gap in her information. And yet she
could have sworn that she had seen that tall lanky fellow somewhere or
other before.

She remained standing in front of the counter, examining the dishes one
after another, and saying in a shrill voice:

“I hardly know what to have. When the afternoon comes I feel quite
famished for my dinner, and then, later on, I don’t seem able to fancy
anything at all. Have you got a cutlet rolled in bread-crumbs left,
Madame Quenu?”

Without waiting for a reply, she removed one of the covers of the
heater. It was that of the compartment reserved for the chitterlings,
sausages, and black-puddings. However, the chafing-dish was quite cold,
and there was nothing left but one stray forgotten sausage.

“Look under the other cover, Mademoiselle Saget,” said Lisa. “I believe
there’s a cutlet there.”

“No, it doesn’t tempt me,” muttered the little old woman, poking her
nose under the other cover, however, all the same. “I felt rather a
fancy for one, but I’m afraid a cutlet would be rather too heavy in the
evening. I’d rather have something, too, that I need not warm.”

While speaking she had turned towards Florent and looked at him; then
she looked at Gavard, who was beating a tattoo with his finger-tips
on the marble table. She smiled at them, as though inviting them to
continue their conversation.

“Wouldn’t a little piece of salt pork suit you?” asked Lisa.

“A piece of salt pork? Yes, that might do.”

Thereupon she took up the fork with plated handle, which was lying at
the edge of the dish, and began to turn all the pieces of pork about,
prodding them, lightly tapping the bones to judge of their thickness,
and minutely scrutinising the shreds of pinky meat. And as she turned
them over she repeated, “No, no; it doesn’t tempt me.”

“Well, then, have a sheep’s tongue, or a bit of brawn, or a slice of
larded veal,” suggested Lisa patiently.

Mademoiselle Saget, however, shook her head. She remained there for
a few minutes longer, pulling dissatisfied faces over the different
dishes; then, seeing that the others were determined to remain silent,
and that she would not be able to learn anything, she took herself off.

“No; I rather felt a fancy for a cutlet rolled in bread-crumbs,” she
said as she left the shop, “but the one you have left is too fat. I must
come another time.”

Lisa bent forward to watch her through the sausage-skins hanging in the
shop-front, and saw her cross the road and enter the fruit market.

“The old she-goat!” growled Gavard.

Then, as they were now alone again, he began to tell them of the
situation he had found for Florent. A friend of his, he said, Monsieur
Verlaque, one of the fish market inspectors, was so ill that he was
obliged to take a rest; and that very morning the poor man had told
him that he should be very glad to find a substitute who would keep his
berth open for him in case he should recover.

“Verlaque, you know, won’t last another six months,” added Gavard, “and
Florent will keep the place. It’s a splendid idea, isn’t it? And it will
be such a take-in for the police! The berth is under the Prefecture, you
know. What glorious fun to see Florent getting paid by the police, eh?”

He burst into a hearty laugh; the idea struck him as so extremely

“I won’t take the place,” Florent bluntly replied. “I’ve sworn I’ll
never accept anything from the Empire, and I would rather die of
starvation than serve under the Prefecture. It is quite out of the
question, Gavard, quite so!”

Gavard seemed somewhat put out on hearing this. Quenu had lowered his
head, while Lisa, turning round, looked keenly at Florent, her neck
swollen, her bosom straining her bodice almost to bursting point. She
was just going to open her mouth when La Sarriette entered the shop, and
there was another pause in the conversation.

“Dear me!” exclaimed La Sarriette with her soft laugh, “I’d almost
forgotten to get any bacon fat. Please, Madame Quenu, cut me a dozen
thin strips--very thin ones, you know; I want them for larding larks.
Jules has taken it into his head to eat some larks. Ah! how do you do,

She filled the whole shop with her dancing skirts and smiled brightly at
everyone. Her face looked fresh and creamy, and on one side her hair was
coming down, loosened by the wind which blew through the markets. Gavard
grasped her hands, while she with merry impudence resumed: “I’ll bet
that you were talking about me just as I came in. Tell me what you were
saying, uncle.”

However, Lisa now called to her, “Just look and tell me if this is thin

She was cutting the strips of bacon fat with great care on a piece of
board in front of her. Then as she wrapped them up she inquired, “Can I
give you anything else?”

“Well, yes,” replied La Sarriette; “since I’m about it, I think I’ll
have a pound of lard. I’m awfully fond of fried potatoes; I can make a
breakfast off a penn’orth of potatoes and a bunch of radishes. Yes, I’ll
have a pound of lard, please, Madame Quenu.”

Lisa placed a sheet of stout paper in the pan of the scales. Then she
took the lard out of a jar under the shelves with a boxwood spatula,
gently adding small quantities to the fatty heap, which began to melt
and run slightly. When the plate of the scale fell, she took up the
paper, folded it, and rapidly twisted the ends with her finger-tips.

“That makes twenty-four sous,” she said; “the bacon is six sous--thirty
sous altogether. There’s nothing else you want, is there?”

“No,” said La Sarriette, “nothing.” She paid her money, still laughing
and showing her teeth, and staring the men in the face. Her grey skirt
was all awry, and her loosely fastened red neckerchief allowed a little
of her white bosom to appear. Before she went away she stepped up to
Gavard again, and pretending to threaten him exclaimed: “So you won’t
tell me what you were talking about as I came in? I could see you
laughing from the street. Oh, you sly fellow! Ah! I sha’n’t love you any

Then she left the shop and ran across the road.

“It was Mademoiselle Saget who sent her here,” remarked handsome Lisa

Then silence fell again for some moments. Gavard was dismayed at
Florent’s reception of his proposal. Lisa was the first to speak. “It
was wrong of you to refuse the post, Florent,” she said in the most
friendly tones. “You know how difficult it is to find any employment,
and you are not in a position to be over-exacting.”

“I have my reasons,” Florent replied.

Lisa shrugged her shoulders. “Come now,” said she, “you really can’t be
serious, I’m sure. I can understand that you are not in love with the
Government, but it would be too absurd to let your opinions prevent
you from earning your living. And, besides, my dear fellow, the Emperor
isn’t at all a bad sort of man. You don’t suppose, do you, that he knew
you were eating mouldy bread and tainted meat? He can’t be everywhere,
you know, and you can see for yourself that he hasn’t prevented us here
from doing pretty well. You are not at all just; indeed you are not.”

Gavard, however, was getting very fidgety. He could not bear to hear
people speak well of the Emperor.

“No, no, Madame Quenu,” he interrupted; “you are going too far. It is a
scoundrelly system altogether.”

“Oh, as for you,” exclaimed Lisa vivaciously, “you’ll never rest until
you’ve got yourself plundered and knocked on the head as the result of
all your wild talk. Don’t let us discuss politics; you would only make
me angry. The question is Florent, isn’t it? Well, for my part, I say
that he ought to accept this inspectorship. Don’t you think so too,

Quenu, who had not yet said a word, was very much put out by his wife’s
sudden appeal.

“It’s a good berth,” he replied, without compromising himself.

Then, amidst another interval of awkward silence, Florent resumed: “I
beg you, let us drop the subject. My mind is quite made up. I shall

“You will wait!” cried Lisa, losing patience.

Two rosy fires had risen to her cheeks. As she stood there, erect, in
her white apron, with rounded, swelling hips, it was with difficulty
that she restrained herself from breaking out into bitter words.
However, the entrance of another person into the shop arrested her
anger. The new arrival was Madame Lecoeur.

“Can you let me have half a pound of mixed meats at fifty sous the
pound?” she asked.

She at first pretended not to notice her brother-in-law; but presently
she just nodded her head to him, without speaking. Then she scrutinised
the three men from head to foot, doubtless hoping to divine their secret
by the manner in which they waited for her to go. She could see that she
was putting them out, and the knowledge of this rendered her yet more
sour and angular, as she stood there in her limp skirts, with her long,
spider-like arms bent and her knotted fingers clasped beneath her apron.
Then, as she coughed slightly, Gavard, whom the silence embarrassed,
inquired if she had a cold.

She curtly answered in the negative. Her tightly stretched skin was of
a red-brick colour on those parts of her face where her bones protruded,
and the dull fire burning in her eyes and scorching their lids testified
to some liver complaint nurtured by the querulous jealousy of her
disposition. She turned round again towards the counter, and watched
each movement made by Lisa as she served her with the distrustful glance
of one who is convinced that an attempt will be made to defraud her.

“Don’t give me any saveloy,” she exclaimed; “I don’t like it.”

Lisa had taken up a slender knife, and was cutting some thin slices
of sausage. She next passed on to the smoked ham and the common ham,
cutting delicate slices from each, and bending forward slightly as she
did so, with her eyes ever fixed on the knife. Her plump rosy hands,
flitting about the viands with light and gentle touches, seemed to have
derived suppleness from contact with all the fat.

“You would like some larded veal, wouldn’t you?” she asked, bringing a
yellow pan towards her.

Madame Lecoeur seemed to be thinking the matter over at considerable
length; however, she at last said that she would have some. Lisa had
now begun to cut into the contents of the pans, from which she removed
slices of larded veal and hare _pate_ on the tip of a broad-bladed
knife. And she deposited each successive slice on the middle of a sheet
of paper placed on the scales.

“Aren’t you going to give me some of the boar’s head with pistachio
nuts?” asked Madame Lecoeur in her querulous voice.

Lisa was obliged to add some of the boar’s head. But the butter dealer
was getting exacting, and asked for two slices of galantine. She was
very fond of it. Lisa, who was already irritated, played impatiently
with the handles of the knives, and told her that the galantine was
truffled, and that she could only include it in an “assortment” at three
francs the pound. Madame Lecoeur, however, continued to pry into the
dishes, trying to find something else to ask for. When the “assortment”
 was weighed she made Lisa add some jelly and gherkins to it. The block
of jelly, shaped like a Savoy cake, shook on its white china dish
beneath the angry violence of Lisa’s hand; and as with her finger-tips
she took a couple of gherkins from a jar behind the heater, she made the
vinegar spurt over the sides.

“Twenty-five sous, isn’t it?” Madame Lecoeur leisurely inquired.

She fully perceived Lisa’s covert irritation, and greatly enjoyed the
sight of it, producing her money as slowly as possible, as though,
indeed, her silver had got lost amongst the coppers in her pocket. And
she glanced askance at Gavard, relishing the embarrassed silence which
her presence was prolonging, and vowing that she would not go off, since
they were hiding some trickery or other from her. However, Lisa at
last put the parcel in her hands, and she was then obliged to make her
departure. She went away without saying a word, but darting a searching
glance all round the shop.

“It was that Saget who sent her too!” burst out Lisa, as soon as the old
woman was gone. “Is the old wretch going to send the whole market here
to try to find out what we talk about? What a prying, malicious set they
are! Did anyone ever hear before of crumbed cutlets and ‘assortments’
being bought at five o’clock in the afternoon? But then they’d rack
themselves with indigestion rather than not find out! Upon my word,
though, if La Saget sends anyone else here, you’ll see the reception
she’ll get. I would bundle her out of the shop, even if she were my own

The three men remained silent in presence of this explosion of anger.
Gavard had gone to lean over the brass rail of the window-front, where,
seemingly lost in thought, he began playing with one of the cut-glass
balusters detached from its wire fastening. Presently, however, he
raised his head. “Well, for my part,” he said, “I looked upon it all as
an excellent joke.”

“Looked upon what as a joke?” asked Lisa, still quivering with

“The inspectorship.”

She raised her hands, gave a last glance at Florent, and then sat down
upon the cushioned bench behind the counter and said nothing further.
Gavard, however, began to explain his views at length; the drift of his
argument being that it was the Government which would look foolish in
the matter, since Florent would be taking its money.

“My dear fellow,” he said complacently, “those scoundrels all but
starved you to death, didn’t they? Well, you must make them feed you
now. It’s a splendid idea; it caught my fancy at once!”

Florent smiled, but still persisted in his refusal. Quenu, in the hope
of pleasing his wife, did his best to find some good arguments. Lisa,
however, appeared to pay no further attention to them. For the last
moment or two she had been looking attentively in the direction of the
markets. And all at once she sprang to her feet again, exclaiming, “Ah!
it is La Normande that they are sending to play the spy on us now! Well,
so much the worse for La Normande; she shall pay for the others!”

A tall female pushed the shop door open. It was the handsome fish-girl,
Louise Mehudin, generally known as La Normande. She was a bold-looking
beauty, with a delicate white skin, and was almost as plump as Lisa,
but there was more effrontery in her glance, and her bosom heaved with
warmer life. She came into the shop with a light swinging step, her gold
chain jingling on her apron, her bare hair arranged in the latest style,
and a bow at her throat, a lace bow, which made her one of the most
coquettish-looking queens of the markets. She brought a vague odour
of fish with her, and a herring-scale showed like a tiny patch of
mother-of-pearl near the little finger of one of her hands. She and
Lisa having lived in the same house in the Rue Pirouette, were intimate
friends, linked by a touch of rivalry which kept each of them busy
with thoughts of the other. In the neighbourhood people spoke of “the
beautiful Norman,” just as they spoke of “beautiful Lisa.” This brought
them into opposition and comparison, and compelled each of them to do
her utmost to sustain her reputation for beauty. Lisa from her counter
could, by stooping a little, perceive the fish-girl amidst her salmon
and turbot in the pavilion opposite; and each kept a watch on the
other. Beautiful Lisa laced herself more tightly in her stays; and the
beautiful Norman replied by placing additional rings on her fingers and
additional bows on her shoulders. When they met they were very bland and
unctuous and profuse in compliments; but all the while their eyes
were furtively glancing from under their lowered lids, in the hope of
discovering some flaw. They made a point of always dealing with each
other, and professed great mutual affection.

“I say,” said La Normande, with her smiling air, “it’s to-morrow evening
that you make your black-puddings, isn’t it?”

Lisa maintained a cold demeanour. She seldom showed any anger; but when
she did it was tenacious, and slow to be appeased. “Yes,” she replied
drily, with the tips of her lips.

“I’m so fond of black-puddings, you know, when they come straight out
of the pot,” resumed La Normande. “I’ll come and get some of you

She was conscious of her rival’s unfriendly greeting. However, she
glanced at Florent, who seemed to interest her; and then, unwilling to
go off without having the last word, she was imprudent enough to add: “I
bought some black-pudding of you the day before yesterday, you know, and
it wasn’t quite sweet.”

“Not quite sweet!” repeated Lisa, very pale, and her lips quivering.

She might, perhaps, have once more restrained herself, for fear of La
Normande imagining that she was overcome by envious spite at the
sight of the lace bow; but the girl, not content with playing the spy,
proceeded to insult her, and that was beyond endurance. So, leaning
forward, with her hands clenched on the counter, she exclaimed, in a
somewhat hoarse voice: “I say! when you sold me that pair of soles
last week, did I come and tell you, before everybody that they were

“Stinking! My soles stinking!” cried the fish dealer, flushing scarlet.

For a moment they remained silent, choking with anger, but glaring
fiercely at each other over the array of dishes. All their honeyed
friendship had vanished; a word had sufficed to reveal what sharp teeth
there were behind their smiling lips.

“You’re a vulgar, low creature!” cried the beautiful Norman. “You’ll
never catch me setting foot in here again, I can tell you!”

“Get along with you, get along with you,” exclaimed beautiful Lisa. “I
know quite well whom I’ve got to deal with!”

The fish-girl went off, hurling behind her a coarse expression which
left Lisa quivering. The whole scene had passed so quickly that the
three men, overcome with amazement, had not had time to interfere.
Lisa soon recovered herself, and was resuming the conversation, without
making any allusion to what had just occurred, when the shop girl,
Augustine, returned from an errand on which she had been sent. Lisa
thereupon took Gavard aside, and after telling him to say nothing for
the present to Monsieur Verlaque, promised that she would undertake to
convince her brother-in-law in a couple of days’ time at the utmost.
Quenu then returned to his kitchen, while Gavard took Florent off with
him. And as they were just going into Monsieur Lebigre’s to drink a drop
of vermouth together he called his attention to three women standing in
the covered way between the fish and poultry pavilions.

“They’re cackling together!” he said with an envious air.

The markets were growing empty, and Mademoiselle Saget, Madame Lecoeur,
and La Sarriette alone lingered on the edge of the footway. The old maid
was holding forth.

“As I told you before, Madame Lecoeur,” said she, “they’ve always got
your brother-in-law in their shop. You saw him there yourself just now,
didn’t you?”

“Oh yes, indeed! He was sitting on a table, and seemed quite at home.”

“Well, for my part,” interrupted La Sarriette, “I heard nothing wrong;
and I can’t understand why you’re making such a fuss.”

Mademoiselle Saget shrugged her shoulders. “Ah, you’re very innocent
yet, my dear,” she said. “Can’t you see why the Quenus are always
attracting Monsieur Gavard to their place? Well, I’ll wager that he’ll
leave all he has to their little Pauline.”

“You believe that, do you?” cried Madame Lecoeur, white with rage. Then,
in a mournful voice, as though she had just received some heavy blow,
she continued: “I am alone in the world, and have no one to take my
part; he is quite at liberty to do as he pleases. His niece sides with
him too--you heard her just now. She has quite forgotten all that she
cost me, and wouldn’t stir a hand to help me.”

“Indeed, aunt,” exclaimed La Sarriette, “you are quite wrong there! It’s
you who’ve never had anything but unkind words for me.”

They became reconciled on the spot, and kissed one another. The niece
promised that she would play no more pranks, and the aunt swore by
all she held most sacred that she looked upon La Sarriette as her own
daughter. Then Mademoiselle Saget advised them as to the steps they
ought to take to prevent Gavard from squandering his money. And they
all agreed that the Quenu-Gradelles were very disreputable folks, and
required closely watching.

“I don’t know what they’re up to just now,” said the old maid, “but
there’s something suspicious going on, I’m sure. What’s your opinion,
now, of that fellow Florent, that cousin of Madame Quenu’s?”

The three women drew more closely together, and lowered their voices.

“You remember,” said Madame Lecoeur, “that we saw him one morning with
his boots all split, and his clothes covered with dust, looking just
like a thief who’s been up to some roguery. That fellow quite frightens

“Well, he’s certainly very thin,” said La Sarriette, “but he isn’t

Mademoiselle Saget was reflecting, and she expressed her thoughts
aloud. “I’ve been trying to find out something about him for the last
fortnight, but I can make nothing of it. Monsieur Gavard certainly knows
him. I must have met him myself somewhere before, but I can’t remember

She was still ransacking her memory when La Normande swept up to them
like a whirlwind. She had just left the pork shop.

“That big booby Lisa has got nice manners, I must say!” she cried,
delighted to be able to relieve herself. “Fancy her telling me that I
sold nothing but stinking fish! But I gave her as good as she deserved,
I can tell you! A nice den they keep, with their tainted pig meat which
poisons all their customers!”

“But what had you been saying to her?” asked the old maid, quite
frisky with excitement, and delighted to hear that the two women had

“I! I’d said just nothing at all--no, not that! I just went into the
shop and told her very civilly that I’d buy some black-pudding to-morrow
evening, and then she overwhelmed me with abuse. A dirty hypocrite she
is, with her saint-like airs! But she’ll pay more dearly for this than
she fancies!”

The three women felt that La Normande was not telling them the truth,
but this did not prevent them from taking her part with a rush of bad
language. They turned towards the Rue Rambuteau with insulting mien,
inventing all sorts of stories about the uncleanliness of the cookery at
the Quenu’s shop, and making the most extraordinary accusations. If the
Quenus had been detected selling human flesh the women could not have
displayed more violent and threatening anger. The fish-girl was obliged
to tell her story three times over.

“And what did the cousin say?” asked Mademoiselle Saget, with wicked

“The cousin!” repeated La Normande, in a shrill voice. “Do you really
believe that he’s a cousin? He’s some lover or other, I’ll wager, the
great booby!”

The three others protested against this. Lisa’s honourability was an
article of faith in the neighbourhood.

“Stuff and nonsense!” retorted La Normande. “You can never be sure about
those smug, sleek hypocrites.”

Mademoiselle Saget nodded her head as if to say that she was not
very far from sharing La Normande’s opinion. And she softly added:
“Especially as this cousin has sprung from no one knows where; for it’s
a very doubtful sort of account that the Quenus give of him.”

“Oh, he’s the fat woman’s sweetheart, I tell you!” reaffirmed the
fish-girl; “some scamp or vagabond picked up in the streets. It’s easy
enough to see it.”

“She has given him a complete outfit,” remarked Madame Lecoeur. “He must
be costing her a pretty penny.”

“Yes, yes,” muttered the old maid; “perhaps you are right. I must really
get to know something about him.”

Then they all promised to keep one another thoroughly informed of
whatever might take place in the Quenu-Gradelle establishment. The
butter dealer pretended that she wished to open her brother-in-law’s
eyes as to the sort of places he frequented. However, La Normande’s
anger had by this time toned down, and, a good sort of girl at heart,
she went off, weary of having talked so much on the matter.

“I’m sure that La Normande said something or other insolent,” remarked
Madame Lecoeur knowingly, when the fish-girl had left them. “It is just
her way; and it scarcely becomes a creature like her to talk as she did
of Lisa.”

The three women looked at each other and smiled. Then, when Madame
Lecoeur also had gone off, La Sarriette remarked to Mademoiselle Saget:
“It is foolish of my aunt to worry herself so much about all these
affairs. It’s that which makes her so thin. Ah! she’d have willingly
taken Gavard for a husband if she could only have got him. Yet she used
to beat me if ever a young man looked my way.”

Mademoiselle Saget smiled once more. And when she found herself alone,
and went back towards the Rue Pirouette, she reflected that those three
cackling hussies were not worth a rope to hang them. She was, indeed,
a little afraid that she might have been seen with them, and the idea
somewhat troubled her, for she realised that it would be bad policy to
fall out with the Quenu-Gradelles, who, after all, were well-to-do folks
and much esteemed. So she went a little out of her way on purpose to
call at Taboureau the baker’s in the Rue Turbigo--the finest baker’s
shop in the whole neighbourhood. Madame Taboureau was not only an
intimate friend of Lisa’s, but an accepted authority on every subject.
When it was remarked that “Madame Taboureau had said this,” or “Madame
Taboureau had said that,” there was no more to be urged. So the old
maid, calling at the baker’s under pretence of inquiring at what time
the oven would be hot, as she wished to bring a dish of pears to be
baked, took the opportunity to eulogise Lisa, and lavish praise upon the
sweetness and excellence of her black-puddings. Then, well pleased at
having prepared this moral alibi and delighted at having done what she
could to fan the flames of a quarrel without involving herself in it,
she briskly returned home, feeling much easier in her mind, but
still striving to recall where she had previously seen Madame Quenu’s
so-called cousin.

That same evening, after dinner, Florent went out and strolled for some
time in one of the covered ways of the markets. A fine mist was rising,
and a grey sadness, which the gas lights studded as with yellow tears,
hung over the deserted pavilions. For the first time Florent began to
feel that he was in the way, and to recognise the unmannerly fashion in
which he, thin and artless, had tumbled into this world of fat people;
and he frankly admitted to himself that his presence was disturbing
the whole neighbourhood, and that he was a source of discomfort to the
Quenus--a spurious cousin of far too compromising appearance. These
reflections made him very sad; not, indeed, that they had noticed the
slightest harshness on the part of his brother or Lisa: it was their
very kindness, rather, that was troubling him, and he accused himself of
a lack of delicacy in quartering himself upon them. He was beginning to
doubt the propriety of his conduct. The recollection of the conversation
in the shop during the afternoon caused him a vague disquietude. The
odour of the viands on Lisa’s counter seemed to penetrate him; he felt
himself gliding into nerveless, satiated cowardice. Perhaps he had acted
wrongly in refusing the inspectorship offered him. This reflection gave
birth to a stormy struggle in his mind, and he was obliged to brace and
shake himself before he could recover his wonted rigidity of principles.
However, a moist breeze had risen, and was blowing along the covered
way, and he regained some degree of calmness and resolution on being
obliged to button up his coat. The wind seemingly swept from his clothes
all the greasy odour of the pork shop, which had made him feel so

He was returning home when he met Claude Lantier. The artist, hidden
in the folds of his greenish overcoat, spoke in a hollow voice full of
suppressed anger. He was in a passion with painting, declared that it
was a dog’s trade, and swore that he would not take up a brush again as
long as he lived. That very afternoon he had thrust his foot through a
study which he had been making of the head of that hussy Cadine.

Claude was subject to these outbursts, the fruit of his inability to
execute the lasting, living works which he dreamed of. And at such times
life became an utter blank to him, and he wandered about the streets,
wrapped in the gloomiest thoughts, and waiting for the morning as for a
sort of resurrection. He used to say that he felt bright and cheerful in
the morning, and horribly miserable in the evening.[*] Each of his days
was a long effort ending in disappointment. Florent scarcely recognised
in him the careless night wanderer of the markets. They had already met
again at the pork shop, and Claude, who knew the fugitive’s story, had
grasped his hand and told him that he was a sterling fellow. It was very
seldom, however, that the artist went to the Quenus’.

     [*] Claude Lantier’s struggle for fame is fully described in
     M. Zola’s novel, _L’Oeuvre_ (“His Masterpiece”).

“Are you still at my aunt’s?” he asked. “I can’t imagine how you manage
to exist amidst all that cookery. The places reeks with the smell of
meat. When I’ve been there for an hour I feel as though I shouldn’t want
anything to eat for another three days. I ought not to have gone there
this morning; it was that which made me make a mess of my work.”

Then, after he and Florent had taken a few steps in silence, he resumed:

“Ah! the good people! They quite grieve me with their fine health. I had
thought of painting their portraits, but I’ve never been able to succeed
with such round faces, in which there is never a bone. Ah! You wouldn’t
find my aunt Lisa kicking her foot through her pans! I was an idiot to
have destroyed Cadine’s head! Now that I come to think of it, it wasn’t
so very bad, perhaps, after all.”

Then they began to talk about Aunt Lisa. Claude said that his mother[*]
had not seen anything of her for a long time, and he hinted that the
pork butcher’s wife was somewhat ashamed of her sister having married
a common working man; moreover, she wasn’t at all fond of unfortunate
folks. Speaking of himself, he told Florent that a benevolent gentleman
had sent him to college, being very pleased with the donkeys and old
women that he had managed to draw when only eight years old; but the
good soul had died, leaving him an income of a thousand francs, which
just saved him from perishing of hunger.

[*] Gervaise, the heroine of the _Assommoir_.

“All the same, I would rather have been a working man,” continued
Claude. “Look at the carpenters, for instance. They are very happy
folks, the carpenters. They have a table to make, say; well, they make
it, and then go off to bed, happy at having finished the table, and
perfectly satisfied with themselves. Now I, on the other hand, scarcely
get any sleep at nights. All those confounded pictures which I can’t
finish go flying about my brain. I never get anything finished and done
with--never, never!”

His voice almost broke into a sob. Then he attempted to laugh; and
afterwards began to swear and pour forth coarse expressions, with the
cold rage of one who, endowed with a delicate, sensitive mind, doubts
his own powers, and dreams of wallowing in the mire. He ended by
squatting down before one of the gratings which admit air into the
cellars beneath the markets--cellars where the gas is continually kept
burning. And in the depths below he pointed out Marjolin and Cadine
tranquilly eating their supper, whilst seated on one of the stone blocks
used for killing the poultry. The two young vagabonds had discovered a
means of hiding themselves and making themselves at home in the cellars
after the doors had been closed.

“What a magnificent animal he is, eh!” exclaimed Claude, with envious
admiration, speaking of Marjolin. “He and Cadine are happy, at all
events! All they care for is eating and kissing. They haven’t a care
in the world. Ah, you do quite right, after all, to remain at the pork
shop; perhaps you’ll grow sleek and plump there.”

Then he suddenly went off. Florent climbed up to his garret, disturbed
by Claude’s nervous restlessness, which revived his own uncertainty.
On the morrow, he avoided the pork shop all the morning, and went for
a long walk on the quays. When he returned to lunch, however, he was
struck by Lisa’s kindliness. Without any undue insistence she again
spoke to him about the inspectorship, as of something which was well
worth his consideration. As he listened to her, with a full plate in
front of him, he was affected, in spite of himself, by the prim comfort
of his surroundings. The matting beneath his feet seemed very soft;
the gleams of the brass hanging lamp, the soft, yellow tint of
the wallpaper, and the bright oak of the furniture filled him with
appreciation of a life spent in comfort, which disturbed his notions of
right and wrong. He still, however, had sufficient strength to persist
in his refusal, and repeated his reasons; albeit conscious of the bad
taste he was showing in thus ostentatiously parading his animosity and
obstinacy in such a place. Lisa showed no signs of vexation; on the
contrary, she smiled, and the sweetness of her smile embarrassed Florent
far more than her suppressed irritation of the previous evening. At
dinner the subject was not renewed; they talked solely of the great
winter saltings, which would keep the whole staff of the establishment
busily employed.

The evenings were growing cold, and as soon as they had dined they
retired into the kitchen, where it was very warm. The room was so large,
too, that several people could sit comfortably at the square central
table, without in any way impeding the work that was going on. Lighted
by gas, the walls were coated with white and blue tiles to a height
of some five or six feet from the floor. On the left was a great iron
stove, in the three apertures of which were set three large round pots,
their bottoms black with soot. At the end was a small range, which,
fitted with an oven and a smoking-place, served for the broiling; and
up above, over the skimming-spoons, ladles, and long-handled forks, were
several numbered drawers, containing rasped bread, both fine and coarse,
toasted crumbs, spices, cloves, nutmegs, and pepper. On the right,
leaning heavily against the wall, was the chopping-block, a huge mass
of oak, slashed and scored all over. Attached to it were several
appliances, an injecting pump, a forcing-machine, and a mechanical
mincer, which, with their wheels and cranks, imparted to the place an
uncanny and mysterious aspect, suggesting some kitchen of the infernal

Then, all round the walls upon shelves, and even under the tables,
were iron pots, earthenware pans, dishes, pails, various kinds of tin
utensils, a perfect battery of deep copper saucepans, and swelling
funnels, racks of knives and choppers, rows of larding-pins and
needles--a perfect world of greasy things. In spite of the extreme
cleanliness, grease was paramount; it oozed forth from between the blue
and white tiles on the wall, glistened on the red tiles of the flooring,
gave a greyish glitter to the stove, and polished the edges of the
chopping-block with the transparent sheen of varnished oak. And, indeed,
amidst the ever-rising steam, the continuous evaporation from the three
big pots, in which pork was boiling and melting, there was not a single
nail from ceiling to floor from which grease did not exude.

The Quenu-Gradelles prepared nearly all their stock themselves. All that
they procured from outside were the potted meats of celebrated firms,
with jars of pickles and preserves, sardines, cheese, and edible snails.
They consequently became very busy after September in filling the
cellars which had been emptied during the summer. They continued working
even after the shop had been closed for the night. Assisted by Auguste
and Leon, Quenu would stuff sausages-skins, prepare hams, melt down
lard, and salt the different sorts of bacon. There was a tremendous
noise of cauldrons and cleavers, and the odour of cooking spread through
the whole house. All this was quite independent of the daily business
in fresh pork, _pate de fois gras_, hare patty, galantine, saveloys and

That evening, at about eleven o’clock, Quenu, after placing a couple of
pots on the fire in order to melt down some lard, began to prepare the
black-puddings. Auguste assisted him. At one corner of the square table
Lisa and Augustine sat mending linen, whilst opposite to them, on the
other side, with his face turned towards the fireplace, was Florent.
Leon was mincing some sausage-meat on the oak block in a slow,
rhythmical fashion.

Auguste first of all went out into the yard to fetch a couple of
jug-like cans full of pigs’ blood. It was he who stuck the animals in
the slaughter house. He himself would carry away the blood and interior
portions of the pigs, leaving the men who scalded the carcasses to bring
them home completely dressed in their carts. Quenu asserted that no
assistant in all Paris was Auguste’ equal as a pig-sticker. The truth
was that Auguste was a wonderfully keen judge of the quality of the
blood; and the black-pudding proved good every time that he said such
would be the case.

“Well, will the black-pudding be good this time?” asked Lisa.

August put down the two cans and slowly answered: “I believe so, Madame
Quenu; yes, I believe so. I tell it at first by the way the blood flows.
If it spurts out very gently when I pull out the knife, that’s a bad
sign, and shows that the blood is poor.”

“But doesn’t that depend on how far the knife has been stuck in?” asked

A smile came over Auguste’s pale face. “No,” he replied; “I always let
four digits of the blade go in; that’s the right way to measure. But the
best sign of all is when the blood runs out and I beat it with my
hand when it pours into the pail; it ought to be of a good warmth, and
creamy, without being too thick.”

Augustine had put down her needle, and with her eyes raised was now
gazing at Auguste. On her ruddy face, crowned by wiry chestnut hair,
there was an expression of profound attention. Lisa and even little
Pauline were also listening with deep interest.

“Well, I beat it, and beat it, and beat it,” continued the young man,
whisking his hand about as though he were whipping cream. “And then,
when I take my hand out and look at it, it ought to be greased, as it
were, by the blood and equally coated all over. And if that’s the case,
anyone can say without fear of mistake that the black-puddings will be

He remained for a moment in an easy attitude, complacently holding his
hand in the air. This hand, which spent so much of its time in pails of
blood, had brightly gleaming nails, and looked very rosy above his white
sleeve. Quenu had nodded his head in approbation, and an interval
of silence followed. Leon was still mincing. Pauline, however, after
remaining thoughtful for a little while, mounted upon Florent’s feet
again, and in her clear voice exclaimed: “I say, cousin, tell me the
story of the gentleman who was eaten by the wild beasts!”

It was probably the mention of the pig’s blood which had aroused in the
child’s mind the recollection of “the gentleman who had been eaten by
the wild beasts.” Florent did not at first understand what she referred
to, and asked her what gentleman she meant. Lisa began to smile.

“She wants you to tell her,” she said, “the story of that unfortunate
man--you know whom I mean--which you told to Gavard one evening. She
must have heard you.”

At this Florent grew very grave. The little girl got up, and taking the
big cat in her arms, placed it on his knees, saying that Mouton also
would like to hear the story. Mouton, however, leapt on to the table,
where, with rounded back, he remained contemplating the tall, scraggy
individual who for the last fortnight had apparently afforded him matter
for deep reflection. Pauline meantime began to grow impatient, stamping
her feet and insisting on hearing the story.

“Oh, tell her what she wants,” said Lisa, as the child persisted and
became quite unbearable; “she’ll leave us in peace then.”

Florent remained silent for a moment longer, with his eyes turned
towards the floor. Then slowly raising his head he let his gaze rest
first on the two women who were plying their needles, and next on Quenu
and Auguste, who were preparing the pot for the black-puddings. The gas
was burning quietly, the stove diffused a gentle warmth, and all the
grease of the kitchen glistened in an atmosphere of comfort such as
attends good digestion

Then, taking little Pauline upon his knee, and smiling a sad smile,
Florent addressed himself to the child as follows[*]:--

     [*] Florent’s narrative is not romance, but is based on the
     statements of several of the innocent victims whom the third
     Napoleon transported to Cayenne when wading through blood to
     the power which he so misused.--Translator.

“Once upon a time there was a poor man who was sent away, a long, long
way off, right across the sea. On the ship which carried him were four
hundred convicts, and he was thrown among them. He was forced to live
for five weeks amidst all those scoundrels, dressed like them in coarse
canvas, and feeding at their mess. Foul insects preyed on him, and
terrible sweats robbed him of all his strength. The kitchen, the
bakehouse, and the engine-room made the orlop deck so terribly hot that
ten of the convicts died from it. In the daytime they were sent up in
batches of fifty to get a little fresh air from the sea; and as the crew
of the ship feared them, a couple of cannons were pointed at the little
bit of deck where they took exercise. The poor fellow was very glad
indeed when his turn to go up came. His terrible perspiration then
abated somewhat; still, he could not eat, and felt very ill. During the
night, when he was manacled again, and the rolling of the ship in the
rough sea kept knocking him against his companions, he quite broke down,
and began to cry, glad to be able to do so without being seen.”

Pauline was listening with dilated eyes, and her little hands crossed
primly in front of her.

“But this isn’t the story of the gentleman who was eaten by the wild
beasts,” she interrupted. “This is quite a different story; isn’t it
now, cousin?”

“Wait a bit, and you’ll see,” replied Florent gently. “I shall come
to the gentleman presently. I’m telling you the whole story from the

“Oh, thank you,” murmured the child, with a delighted expression.
However, she remained thoughtful, evidently struggling with some great
difficulty to which she could find no explanation. At last she spoke.

“But what had the poor man done,” she asked, “that he was sent away and
put in the ship?”

Lisa and Augustine smiled. They were quite charmed with the child’s
intelligence; and Lisa, without giving the little one a direct reply,
took advantage of the opportunity to teach her a lesson by telling her
that naughty children were also sent away in boats like that.

“Oh, then,” remarked Pauline judiciously, “perhaps it served my cousin’s
poor man quite right if he cried all night long.”

Lisa resumed her sewing, bending over her work. Quenu had not listened.
He had been cutting some little rounds of onion over a pot placed on the
fire; and almost at once the onions began to crackle, raising a clear
shrill chirrup like that of grasshoppers basking in the heat. They gave
out a pleasant odour too, and when Quenu plunged his great wooden spoon
into the pot the chirruping became yet louder, and the whole kitchen was
filled with the penetrating perfume of the onions. Auguste meantime was
preparing some bacon fat in a dish, and Leon’s chopper fell faster
and faster, and every now and then scraped the block so as to gather
together the sausage-meat, now almost a paste.

“When they got across the sea,” Florent continued, “they took the man to
an island called the Devil’s Island,[*] where he found himself amongst
others who had been carried away from their own country. They were
all very unhappy. At first they were kept to hard labour, just like
convicts. The gendarme who had charge of them counted them three times
every day, so as to be sure that none were missing. Later on, they were
left free to do as they liked, being merely locked up at night in a big
wooden hut, where they slept in hammocks stretched between two bars.
At the end of the year they went about barefooted, as their boots were
quite worn out, and their clothes had become so ragged that their flesh
showed through them. They had built themselves some huts with trunks
of trees as a shelter against the sun, which is terribly hot in those
parts; but these huts did not shield them against the mosquitoes, which
covered them with pimples and swellings during the night. Many of them
died, and the others turned quite yellow, so shrunken and wretched,
with their long, unkempt beards, that one could not behold them without

     [*] The Ile du Diable. This spot was selected as the place
     of detention of Captain Dreyfus, the French officer
     convicted in 1894 of having divulged important military
     documents to foreign powers.--Translator.

“Auguste, give me the fat,” cried Quenu; and when the apprentice had
handed him the dish he let the pieces of bacon-fat slide gently into the
pot, and then stirred them with his spoon. A yet denser steam now rose
from the fireplace.

“What did they give them to eat?” asked little Pauline, who seemed
deeply interested.

“They gave them maggoty rice and foul meat,” answered Florent, whose
voice grew lower as he spoke. “The rice could scarcely be eaten. When
the meat was roasted and very well done it was just possible to swallow
it; but if it was boiled, it smelt so dreadfully that the men had nausea
and stomach ache.”

“I’d rather have lived upon dry bread,” said the child, after thinking
the matter carefully over.

Leon, having finished the mincing, now placed the sausage-meat upon the
square table in a dish. Mouton, who had remained seated with his eyes
fixed upon Florent, as though filled with amazement by his story, was
obliged to retreat a few steps, which he did with a very bad grace. Then
he rolled himself up, with his nose close to the sausage-meat, and began
to purr.

Lisa was unable to conceal her disgust and amazement. That foul
rice, that evil-smelling meat, seemed to her to be scarcely credible
abominations, which disgraced those who had eaten them as much as it did
those who had provided them; and her calm, handsome face and round neck
quivered with vague fear of the man who had lived upon such horrid food.

“No, indeed, it was not a land of delights,” Florent resumed, forgetting
all about little Pauline, and fixing his dreamy eyes upon the steaming
pot. “Every day brought fresh annoyances--perpetual grinding tyranny,
the violation of every principle of justice, contempt for all human
charity, which exasperated the prisoners, and slowly consumed them with
a fever of sickly rancour. They lived like wild beasts, with the lash
ceaselessly raised over their backs. Those torturers would have liked to
kill the poor man--Oh, no; it can never be forgotten; it is impossible!
Such sufferings will some day claim vengeance.”

His voice had fallen, and the pieces of fat hissing merrily in the pot
drowned it with the sound of their boiling. Lisa, however, heard him,
and was frightened by the implacable expression which had suddenly come
over his face; and, recollecting the gentle look which he habitually
wore, she judged him to be a hypocrite.

Florent’s hollow voice had brought Pauline’s interest and delight to the
highest pitch, and she fidgeted with pleasure on his knee.

“But the man?” she exclaimed. “Go on about the man!”

Florent looked at her, and then appeared to remember, and smiled his sad
smile again.

“The man,” he continued, “was weary of remaining on the island, and
had but one thought--that of making his escape by crossing the sea
and reaching the mainland, whose white coast line could be seen on the
horizon in clear weather. But it was no easy matter to escape. It was
necessary that a raft should be built, and as several of the prisoners
had already made their escape, all the trees on the island had been
felled to prevent the others from obtaining timber. The island was,
indeed, so bare and naked, so scorched by the blazing sun, that life in
it had become yet more perilous and terrible. However, it occurred to
the man and two of his companions to employ the timbers of which their
huts were built; and one evening they put out to sea on some rotten
beams, which they had fastened together with dry branches. The wind
carried them towards the coast. Just as daylight was about to appear,
the raft struck on a sandbank with such violence that the beams were
severed from their lashings and carried out to sea. The three poor
fellows were almost engulfed in the sand. Two of them sank in it to
their waists, while the third disappeared up to his chin, and his
companions were obliged to pull him out. At last they reached a rock,
so small that there was scarcely room for them to sit down upon it. When
the sun rose they could see the coast in front of them, a bar of grey
cliffs stretching all along the horizon. Two, who knew how to swim,
determined to reach those cliffs. They preferred to run the risk of
being drowned at once to that of slowly starving on the rock. But they
promised their companion that they would return for him when they had
reached land and had been able to procure a boat.”

“Ah, I know now!” cried little Pauline, clapping her hands with glee.
“It’s the story of the gentleman who was eaten by the crabs!”

“They succeeded in reaching the coast,” continued Florent, “but it was
quite deserted; and it was only at the end of four days that they were
able to get a boat. When they returned to the rock, they found their
companion lying on his back, dead, and half-eaten by crabs, which were
still swarming over what remained of his body.”[*]

     [*] In deference to the easily shocked feelings of the
     average English reader I have somewhat modified this
     passage. In the original M. Zola fully describes the awful
     appearance of the body.--Translator.
A murmur of disgust escaped Lisa and Augustine, and a horrified grimace
passed over the face of Leon, who was preparing the skins for the
black-puddings. Quenu stopped in the midst of his work and looked
at Auguste, who seemed to have turned faint. Only little Pauline
was smiling. In imagination the others could picture those swarming,
ravenous crabs crawling all over the kitchen, and mingling gruesome
odours with the aroma of the bacon-fat and onions.

“Give me the blood,” cried Quenu, who had not been following the story.

Auguste came up to him with the two cans, from which he slowly
poured the blood, while Quenu, as it fell, vigorously stirred the
now thickening contents of the pot. When the cans were emptied, Quenu
reached up to one of the drawers above the range, and took out some
pinches of spice. Then he added a plentiful seasoning of pepper.

“They left him there, didn’t they,” Lisa now asked of Florent, “and
returned themselves in safety?”

“As they were going back,” continued Florent, “the wind changed, and
they were driven out into the open sea. A wave carried away one of their
oars, and the water swept so furiously into the boat that their whole
time was taken up in baling it out with their hands. They tossed about
in this way in sight of the coast, carried away by squalls and then
brought back again by the tide, without a mouthful of bread to eat, for
their scanty stock of provisions had been consumed. This went on for
three days.”

“Three days!” cried Lisa in stupefaction; “three days without food!”

“Yes, three days without food. When the east wind at last brought them
to shore, one of them was so weak that he lay on the beach the whole
day. In the evening he died. His companion had vainly attempted to get
him to chew some leaves which he gathered from the trees.”

At this point Augustine broke into a slight laugh. Then, ashamed at
having done so and not wishing to be considered heartless, she stammered
out in confusion: “Oh! I wasn’t laughing at that. It was Mouton. Do just
look at Mouton, madame.”

Then Lisa in her turn began to smile. Mouton, who had been lying all
this time with his nose close to the dish of sausage-meat, had probably
begun to feel distressed and disgusted by the presence of all this food,
for he had risen and was rapidly scratching the table with his paws as
though he wanted to bury the dish and its contents. At last, however,
turning his back to it and lying down on his side, he stretched himself
out, half closing his eyes and rubbing his head against the table with
languid pleasure. Then they all began to compliment Mouton. He never
stole anything, they said, and could be safely left with the meat.
Pauline related that he licked her fingers and washed her face after
dinner without trying to bite her.

However, Lisa now came back to the question as to whether it were
possible to live for three days without food. In her opinion it was not.
“No,” she said, “I can’t believe it. No one ever goes three days
without food. When people talk of a person dying of hunger, it is a mere
expression. They always get something to eat, more or less. It is only
the most abandoned wretches, people who are utterly lost----”

She was doubtless going to add, “vagrant rogues,” but she stopped short
and looked at Florent. The scornful pout of her lips and the expression
of her bright eyes plainly signified that in her belief only villains
made such prolonged fasts. It seemed to her that a man able to remain
without food for three days must necessarily be a very dangerous
character. For, indeed, honest folks never placed themselves in such a

Florent was now almost stifling. In front of him the stove, into which
Leon had just thrown several shovelfuls of coal, was snoring like a lay
clerk asleep in the sun; and the heat was very great. Auguste, who had
taken charge of the lard melting in the pots, was watching over it in a
state of perspiration, and Quenu wiped his brow with his sleeve whilst
waiting for the blood to mix. A drowsiness such as follows gross
feeding, an atmosphere heavy with indigestion, pervaded the kitchen.

“When the man had buried his comrade in the sand,” Florent continued
slowly, “he walked off alone straight in front of him. Dutch Guiana, in
which country he now was, is a land of forests intermingled with rivers
and swamps. The man walked on for more than a week without coming across
a single human dwelling-place. All around, death seemed to be lurking
and lying in wait for him. Though his stomach was racked by hunger, he
often did not dare to eat the bright-coloured fruits which hung from the
trees; he was afraid to touch the glittering berries, fearing lest they
should be poisonous. For whole days he did not see a patch of sky, but
tramped on beneath a canopy of branches, amidst a greenish gloom that
swarmed with horrible living creatures. Great birds flew over his head
with a terrible flapping of wings and sudden strange calls resembling
death groans; apes sprang, wild animals rushed through the thickets
around him, bending the saplings and bringing down a rain of leaves, as
though a gale were passing. But it was particularly the serpents that
turned his blood cold when, stepping upon a matting of moving, withered
leaves, he caught sight of their slim heads gliding amidst a horrid maze
of roots. In certain nooks, nooks of dank shadow, swarming colonies
of reptiles--some black, some yellow, some purple, some striped, some
spotted, and some resembling withered reeds--suddenly awakened into life
and wriggled away. At such times the man would stop and look about for
a stone on which he might take refuge from the soft yielding ground
into which his feet sank; and there he would remain for hours,
terror-stricken on espying in some open space near by a boa, who,
with tail coiled and head erect, swayed like the trunk of a big tree
splotched with gold.

“At night he used to sleep in the trees, alarmed by the slightest
rustling of the branches, and fancying that he could hear endless swarms
of serpents gliding through the gloom. He almost stifled beneath the
interminable expanse of foliage. The gloomy shade reeked with close,
oppressive heat, a clammy dankness and pestilential sweat, impregnated
with the coarse aroma of scented wood and malodorous flowers.

“And when at last, after a long weary tramp, the man made his way out of
the forest and beheld the sky again, he found himself confronted by wide
rivers which barred his way. He skirted their banks, keeping a watchful
eye on the grey backs of the alligators and the masses of drifting
vegetation, and then, when he came to a less suspicious-looking spot,
he swam across. And beyond the rivers the forests began again. At other
times there were vast prairie lands, leagues of thick vegetation, in
which, at distant intervals, small lakes gleamed bluely. The man then
made a wide detour, and sounded the ground beneath him before advancing,
having but narrowly escaped from being swallowed up and buried beneath
one of those smiling plains which he could hear cracking at each step he
took. The giant grass, nourished by all the collected humus, concealed
pestiferous marshes, depths of liquid mud; and amongst the expanses of
verdure spread over the glaucous immensity to the very horizon there
were only narrow stretches of firm ground with which the traveller must
be acquainted if he would avoid disappearing for ever. One night the
man sank down as far as his waist. At each effort he made to extricate
himself the mud threatened to rise to his mouth. Then he remained
quite still for nearly a couple of hours; and when the moon rose he was
fortunately able to catch hold of a branch of a tree above his head. By
the time he reached a human dwelling his hands and feet were bruised and
bleeding, swollen with poisonous stings. He presented such a pitiable,
famished appearance that those who saw him were afraid of him. They
tossed him some food fifty yards away from the house, and the master of
it kept guard over his door with a loaded gun.”

Florent stopped, his voice choked by emotion, and his eyes gazing
blankly before him. For some minutes he had seemed to be speaking to
himself alone. Little Pauline, who had grown drowsy, was lying in his
arms with her head thrown back, though striving to keep her wondering
eyes open. And Quenu, for his part, appeared to be getting impatient.

“Why, you stupid!” he shouted to Leon, “don’t you know how to hold a
skin yet? What do you stand staring at me for? It’s the skin you should
look at, not me! There, hold it like that, and don’t move again!”

With his right hand Leon was raising a long string of sausage-skin, at
one end of which a very wide funnel was inserted; while with his left
hand he coiled the black-pudding round a metal bowl as fast as Quenu
filled the funnel with big spoonfuls of the meat. The latter, black and
steaming, flowed through the funnel, gradually inflating the skin, which
fell down again, gorged to repletion and curving languidly. As Quenu had
removed the pot from the range both he and Leon stood out prominently,
he broad visaged, and the lad slender of profile, in the burning glow
which cast over their pale faces and white garments a flood of rosy

Lisa and Augustine watched the filling of the skin with great interest,
Lisa especially; and she in her turn found fault with Leon because he
nipped the skin too tightly with his fingers, which caused knots to
form, she said. When the skin was quite full, Quenu let it slip gently
into a pot of boiling water; and seemed quite easy in his mind again,
for now nothing remained but to leave it to boil.

“And the man--go on about the man!” murmured Pauline, opening her eyes,
and surprised at no longer hearing the narrative.

Florent rocked her on his knee, and resumed his story in a slow,
murmuring voice, suggestive of that of a nurse singing an infant to

“The man,” he said, “arrived at a large town. There he was at first
taken for an escaped convict, and was kept in prison for several months.
Then he was released, and turned his hand to all sorts of work. He
kept accounts and taught children to read, and at one time he was even
employed as a navvy in making an embankment. He was continually hoping
to return to his own country. He had saved the necessary amount of money
when he was attacked by yellow fever. Then, believing him to be dead,
those about him divided his clothes amongst themselves; so that when he
at last recovered he had not even a shirt left. He had to begin all over
again. The man was very weak, and was afraid he might have to remain
where he was. But at last he was able to get away, and he returned.”

His voice had sunk lower and lower, and now died away altogether in a
final quivering of his lips. The close of the story had lulled little
Pauline to sleep, and she was now slumbering with her head on Florent’s
shoulder. He held her with one arm, and still gently rocked her on his
knee. No one seemed to pay any further attention to him, so he remained
still and quiet where he was, holding the sleeping child.

Now came the tug of war, as Quenu said. He had to remove the
black-puddings from the pot. In order to avoid breaking them or getting
them entangled, he coiled them round a thick wooden pin as he drew them
out, and then carried them into the yard and hung them on screens, where
they quickly dried. Leon helped him, holding up the drooping ends. And
as these reeking festoons of black-pudding crossed the kitchen they left
behind them a trail of odorous steam, which still further thickened the
dense atmosphere.

Auguste, on his side, after giving a hasty glance at the lard moulds,
now took the covers off the two pots in which the fat was simmering, and
each bursting bubble discharged an acrid vapour into the kitchen. The
greasy haze had been gradually rising ever since the beginning of
the evening, and now it shrouded the gas and pervaded the whole room,
streaming everywhere, and veiling the ruddy whiteness of Quenu and his
two assistants. Lisa and Augustine had risen from their seats; and all
were panting as though they had eaten too much.

Augustine carried the sleeping Pauline upstairs; and Quenu, who liked to
fasten up the kitchen himself, gave Auguste and Leon leave to go to
bed, saying that he would fetch the black-pudding himself. The younger
apprentice stole off with a very red face, having managed to secrete
under his shirt nearly a yard of the pudding, which must have almost
scalded him. Then the Quenus and Florent remained alone, in silence.
Lisa stood nibbling a little piece of the hot pudding, keeping her
pretty lips well apart all the while, for fear of burning them, and
gradually the black compound vanished in her rosy mouth.

“Well,” said she, “La Normande was foolish in behaving so rudely; the
black-pudding’s excellent to-day.”

However, there was a knock at the passage door, and Gavard, who stayed
at Monsieur Lebigre’s every evening until midnight, came in. He had
called for a definite answer about the fish inspectorship.

“You must understand,” he said, “that Monsieur Verlaque cannot wait any
longer; he is too ill. So Florent must make up his mind. I have promised
to give a positive answer early to-morrow.”

“Well, Florent accepts,” Lisa quietly remarked, taking another nibble at
some black-pudding.

Florent, who had remained in his chair, overcome by a strange feeling of
prostration, vainly endeavoured to rise and protest.

“No, no, say nothing,” continued Lisa; “the matter is quite settled. You
have suffered quite enough already, my dear Florent. What you have just
been telling us is enough to make one shudder. It is time now for you
to settle down. You belong to a respectable family, you received a good
education, and it is really not fitting that you should go wandering
about the highways like a vagrant. At your age childishness is no longer
excusable. You have been foolish; well, all that will be forgotten
and forgiven. You will take your place again among those of your own
class--the class of respectable folks--and live in future like other

Florent listened in astonishment, quite unable to say a word. Lisa
was, doubtless, right. She looked so healthy, so serene, that it was
impossible to imagine that she desired anything but what was proper. It
was he, with his fleshless body and dark, equivocal-looking countenance,
who must be in the wrong, and indulging in unrighteous dreams. He could,
indeed, no longer understand why he had hitherto resisted.

Lisa, however, continued to talk to him with an abundant flow of words,
as though he were a little boy found in fault and threatened with the
police. She assumed, indeed, a most maternal manner, and plied him with
the most convincing reasons. And at last, as a final argument, she said:

“Do it for us, Florent. We occupy a fair position in the neighbourhood
which obliges us to use a certain amount of circumspection; and, to tell
you the truth, between ourselves, I’m afraid that people will begin
to talk. This inspectorship will set everything right; you will be
somebody; you will even be an honour to us.”

Her manner had become caressingly persuasive, and Florent was penetrated
by all the surrounding plenteousness, all the aroma filling the kitchen,
where he fed, as it were, on the nourishment floating in the atmosphere.
He sank into blissful meanness, born of all the copious feeding that
went on in the sphere of plenty in which he had been living during the
last fortnight. He felt, as it were, the titillation of forming fat
which spread slowly all over his body. He experienced the languid
beatitude of shopkeepers, whose chief concern is to fill their bellies.
At this late hour of night, in the warm atmosphere of the kitchen, all
his acerbity and determination melted away. That peaceable evening,
with the odour of the black-pudding and the lard, and the sight of plump
little Pauline slumbering on his knee, had so enervated him that he
found himself wishing for a succession of such evenings--endless ones
which would make him fat.

However, it was the sight of Mouton that chiefly decided him. Mouton was
sound asleep, with his stomach turned upwards, one of his paws resting
on his nose, and his tail twisted over this side, as though to keep him
warm; and he was slumbering with such an expression of feline happiness
that Florent, as he gazed at him, murmured: “No, it would be too
foolish! I accept the berth. Say that I accept it, Gavard.”

Then Lisa finished eating her black-pudding, and wiped her fingers on
the edge of her apron. And next she got her brother-in-law’s candle
ready for him, while Gavard and Quenu congratulated him on his decision.
It was always necessary for a man to settle down, said they; the
breakneck freaks of politics did not provide one with food. And,
meantime, Lisa, standing there with the lighted candle in her hand,
looked at him with an expression of satisfaction resting on her handsome
face, placid like that of some sacred cow.


Three days later the necessary formalities were gone through, and
without demur the police authorities at the Prefecture accepted Florent
on Monsieur Verlaque’s recommendation as his substitute. Gavard, by the
way, had made it a point to accompany them. When he again found himself
alone with Florent he kept nudging his ribs with his elbow as they
walked along together, and laughed, without saying anything, while
winking his eyes in a jeering way. He seemed to find something very
ridiculous in the appearance of the police officers whom they met on
the Quai de l’Horloge, for, as he passed them, he slightly shrugged his
shoulders and made the grimace of a man seeking to restrain himself from
laughing in people’s faces.

On the following morning Monsieur Verlaque began to initiate the new
inspector into the duties of his office. It had been arranged that
during the next few days he should make him acquainted with the
turbulent sphere which he would have to supervise. Poor Verlaque,
as Gavard called him was a pale little man, swathed in flannels,
handkerchiefs, and mufflers. Constantly coughing, he made his way
through the cool, moist atmosphere, and running waters of the fish
market, on a pair of scraggy legs like those of a sickly child.

When Florent made his appearance on the first morning, at seven o’clock,
he felt quite distracted; his eyes were dazed, his head ached with
all the noise and riot. Retail dealers were already prowling about
the auction pavilion; clerks were arriving with their ledgers, and
consigners’ agents, with leather bags slung over their shoulders, sat
on overturned chairs by the salesmen’s desks, waiting to receive their
cash. Fish was being unloaded and unpacked not only in the enclosure,
but even on the footways. All along the latter were piles of small
baskets, an endless arrival of cases and hampers, and sacks of mussels,
from which streamlets of water trickled. The auctioneers’ assistants,
all looking very busy, sprang over the heaps, tore away the straw at
the tops of the baskets, emptied the latter, and tossed them aside.
They then speedily transferred their contents in lots to huge wickerwork
trays, arranging them with a turn of the hand so that they might show
to the best advantage. And when the large tray-like baskets were all
set out, Florent could almost fancy that a whole shoal of fish had got
stranded there, still quivering with life, and gleaming with rosy nacre,
scarlet coral, and milky pearl, all the soft, pale, sheeny hues of the

The deep-lying forests of seaweed, in which the mysterious life of the
ocean slumbers, seemed at one haul of the nets to have yielded up all
they contained. There were cod, keeling, whiting, flounders, plaice,
dabs, and other sorts of common fish of a dingy grey with whitish
splotches; there were conger-eels, huge serpent-like creatures, with
small black eyes and muddy, bluish skins, so slimy that they still
seemed to be gliding along, yet alive. There were broad flat skate
with pale undersides edged with a soft red, and superb backs bumpy with
vertebrae, and marbled down to the tautly stretched ribs of their
fins with splotches of cinnabar, intersected by streaks of the tint of
Florentine bronze--a dark medley of colour suggestive of the hues of a
toad or some poisonous flower. Then, too, there were hideous dog-fish,
with round heads, widely-gaping mouths like those of Chinese idols, and
short fins like bats’ wings; fit monsters to keep yelping guard over the
treasures of the ocean grottoes. And next came the finer fish, displayed
singly on the osier trays; salmon that gleamed like chased silver, every
scale seemingly outlined by a graving-tool on a polished metal surface;
mullet with larger scales and coarser markings; large turbot and huge
brill with firm flesh white like curdled milk; tunny-fish, smooth and
glossy, like bags of blackish leather; and rounded bass, with widely
gaping mouths which a soul too large for the body seemed to have rent
asunder as it forced its way out amidst the stupefaction of death. And
on all sides there were sole, brown and grey, in pairs; sand-eels, slim
and stiff, like shavings of pewter; herrings, slightly twisted, with
bleeding gills showing on their silver-worked skins; fat dories tinged
with just a suspicion of carmine; burnished mackerel with green-streaked
backs, and sides gleaming with ever-changing iridescence; and rosy
gurnets with white bellies, their head towards the centre of the baskets
and their tails radiating all around, so that they simulated some
strange florescence splotched with pearly white and brilliant vermilion.
There were rock mullet, too, with delicious flesh, flushed with the
pinky tinge peculiar to the Cyprinus family; boxes of whiting with
opaline reflections; and baskets of smelts--neat little baskets, pretty
as those used for strawberries, and exhaling a strong scent of violets.
And meantime the tiny black eyes of the shrimps dotted as with beads
of jet their soft-toned mass of pink and grey; and spiny crawfish and
lobsters striped with black, all still alive, raised a grating sound as
they tried to crawl along with their broken claws.

Florent gave but indifferent attention to Monsieur Verlaque’s
explanations. A flood of sunshine suddenly streamed through the lofty
glass roof of the covered way, lighting up all these precious colours,
toned and softened by the waves--the iridescent flesh-tints of the
shell-fish, the opal of the whiting, the pearly nacre of the mackerel,
the ruddy gold of the mullets, the plated skins of the herrings, and
massive silver of the salmon. It was as though the jewel-cases of some
sea-nymph had been emptied there--a mass of fantastical, undreamt-of
ornaments, a streaming and heaping of necklaces, monstrous bracelets,
gigantic brooches, barbaric gems and jewels, the use of which could not
be divined. On the backs of the skate and the dog-fish you saw, as it
were, big dull green and purple stones set in dark metal, while the
slender forms of the sand-eels and the tails and fins of the smelts
displayed all the delicacy of finely wrought silver-work.

And meantime Florent’s face was fanned by a fresh breeze, a sharp, salt
breeze redolent of the sea. It reminded him of the coasts of Guiana and
his voyages. He half fancied that he was gazing at some bay left dry by
the receding tide, with the seaweed steaming in the sun, the bare rocks
drying, and the beach smelling strongly of the brine. All around him
the fish in their perfect freshness exhaled a pleasant perfume, that
slightly sharp, irritating perfume which depraves the appetite.

Monsieur Verlaque coughed. The dampness was affecting him, and he
wrapped his muffler more closely about his neck.

“Now,” said he, “we will pass on to the fresh water fish.”

This was in a pavilion beside the fruit market, the last one, indeed, in
the direction of the Rue Rambuteau. On either side of the space reserved
for the auctions were large circular stone basins, divided into separate
compartments by iron gratings. Slender streams of water flowed from
brass jets shaped like swan’s necks; and the compartments were filled
with swarming colonies of crawfish, black-backed carp ever on the
move, and mazy tangles of eels, incessantly knotting and unknotting
themselves. Again was Monsieur Verlaque attacked by an obstinate fit
of coughing. The moisture of the atmosphere was more insipid here
than amongst the sea water fish: there was a riverside scent, as of
sun-warmed water slumbering on a bed of sand.

A great number of crawfishes had arrived from Germany that morning in
cases and hampers, and the market was also crowded with river fish from
Holland and England. Several men were unpacking shiny carp from the
Rhine, lustrous with ruddy metallic hues, their scales resembling
bronzed _cloisonne_ enamel; and others were busy with huge pike, the
cruel iron-grey brigands of the waters, who ravenously protruded their
savage jaws; or with magnificent dark-hued with verdigris. And amidst
these suggestions of copper, iron, and bronze, the gudgeon and perch,
the trout, the bleak, and the flat-fish taken in sweep-nets showed
brightly white, the steel-blue tints of their backs gradually toning
down to the soft transparency of their bellies. However, it was the
fat snowy-white barbel that supplied the liveliest brightness in this
gigantic collection of still life.

Bags of young carp were being gently emptied into the basins. The fish
spun round, then remained motionless for a moment, and at last shot away
and disappeared. Little eels were turned out of their hampers in a mass,
and fell to the bottom of the compartments like tangled knots of snakes;
while the larger ones--those whose bodies were about as thick as a
child’s arm--raised their heads and slipped of their own accord into the
water with the supple motion of serpents gliding into the concealment
of a thicket. And meantime the other fish, whose death agony had
been lasting all the morning as they lay on the soiled osiers of the
basket-trays, slowly expired amidst all the uproar of the auctions,
opening their mouths as though to inhale the moisture of the air, with
great silent gasps, renewed every few seconds.

However, Monsieur Verlaque brought Florent back to the salt water fish.
He took him all over the place and gave him the minutest particulars
about everything. Round the nine salesmen’s desks ranged along three
sides of the pavilion there was now a dense crowd of surging, swaying
heads, above which appeared the clerks, perched upon high chairs and
making entries in their ledgers.

“Are all these clerks employed by the salesmen?” asked Florent.

By way of reply Monsieur Verlaque made a detour along the outside
footway, led him into the enclosure of one of the auctions, and then
explained the working of the various departments of the big yellow
office, which smelt strongly of fish and was stained all over
by drippings and splashings from the hampers. In a little glazed
compartment up above, the collector of the municipal dues took note of
the prices realised by the different lots of fish. Lower down, seated
upon high chairs and with their wrists resting upon little desks, were
two female clerks, who kept account of the business on behalf of the
salesmen. At each end of the stone table in front of the office was a
crier who brought the basket-trays forward in turn, and in a bawling
voice announced what each lot consisted of; while above him the female
clerk, pen in hand, waited to register the price at which the lots
were knocked down. And outside the enclosure, shut up in another little
office of yellow wood, Monsieur Verlaque showed Florent the cashier, a
fat old woman, who was ranging coppers and five-franc pierces in piles.

“There is a double control, you see,” said Monsieur Verlaque; “the
control of the Prefecture of the Seine and that of the Prefecture of
Police. The latter, which licenses the salesmen, claims to have the
right of supervision over them; and the municipality asserts its right
to be represented at the transactions as they are subject to taxation.”

He went on expatiating at length in his faint cold voice respecting the
rival claims of the two Prefectures. Florent, however, was paying but
little heed, his attention being concentrated on a female clerk sitting
on one of the high chairs just in front of him. She was a tall, dark
woman of thirty, with big black eyes and an easy calmness of manner, and
she wrote with outstretched fingers like a girl who had been taught the
regulation method of the art.

However, Florent’s attention was diverted by the yelping of the crier,
who was just offering a magnificent turbot for sale.

“I’ve a bid of thirty francs! Thirty francs, now; thirty francs!”

He repeated these words in all sorts of keys, running up and down a
strange scale of notes full of sudden changes. Humpbacked and with his
face twisted askew, and his hair rough and disorderly, he wore a great
blue apron with a bib; and with flaming eyes and outstretched arms he
cried vociferously: “Thirty-one! thirty-two! thirty-three! Thirty-three
francs fifty centimes! thirty-three fifty!”

Then he paused to take breath, turning the basket-tray and pushing it
farther upon the table. The fish-wives bent forward and gently touched
the turbot with their finger-tips. Then the crier began again with
renewed energy, hurling his figures towards the buyers with a wave
of the hand and catching the slightest indication of a fresh bid--the
raising of a finger, a twist of the eyebrows, a pouting of the lips, a
wink, and all with such rapidity and such a ceaseless jumble of words
that Florent, utterly unable to follow him, felt quite disconcerted
when, in a sing-song voice like that of a priest intoning the final
words of a versicle, he chanted: “Forty-two! forty-two! The turbot goes
for forty-two francs.”

It was the beautiful Norman who had made the last bid. Florent
recognised her as she stood in the line of fish-wives crowding against
the iron rails which surrounded the enclosure. The morning was fresh
and sharp, and there was a row of tippets above the display of big white
aprons, covering the prominent bosoms and stomachs and sturdy shoulders.
With high-set chignon set off with curls, and white and dainty skin,
the beautiful Norman flaunted her lace bow amidst tangled shocks of
hair covered with dirty kerchiefs, red noses eloquent of drink,
sneering mouths, and battered faces suggestive of old pots. And she also
recognised Madame Quenu’s cousin, and was so surprised to see him there
that she began gossiping to her neighbours about him.

The uproar of voices had become so great that Monsieur Verlaque
renounced all further attempt to explain matters to Florent. On the
footway close by, men were calling out the larger fish with
prolonged shouts, which sounded as though they came from gigantic
speaking-trumpets; and there was one individual who roared “Mussels!
Mussels!” in such a hoarse, cracked, clamorous voice that the very roofs
of the market shook. Some sacks of mussels were turned upside down,
and their contents poured into hampers, while others were emptied with
shovels. And there was a ceaseless procession of basket-trays containing
skate, soles, mackerel, conger-eels, and salmon, carried backwards and
forwards amidst the ever-increasing cackle and pushing of the fish-women
as they crowded against the iron rails which creaked with their
pressure. The humpbacked crier, now fairly on the job, waved his skinny
arms in the air and protruded his jaws. Presently, seemingly lashed into
a state of frenzy by the flood of figures that spurted from his lips, he
sprang upon a stool, where, with his mouth twisted spasmodically and
his hair streaming behind him, he could force nothing more than
unintelligible hisses from his parched throat. And in the meantime, up
above, the collector of municipal dues, a little old man, muffled in
a collar of imitation astrachan, remained with nothing but his nose
showing under his black velvet skullcap. And the tall, dark-complexioned
female clerk, with eyes shining calmly in her face, which had been
slightly reddened by the cold, sat on her high wooden chair, quietly
writing, apparently unruffled by the continuous rattle which came from
the hunchback below her.

“That fellow Logre is wonderful,” muttered Monsieur Verlaque with a
smile. “He is the best crier in the markets. I believe he could make
people buy boot soles in the belief they were fish!”

Then he and Florent went back into the pavilion. As they again passed
the spot where the fresh water fish was being sold by auction, and where
the bidding seemed much quieter, Monsieur Verlaque explained that French
river fishing was in a bad way.[*] The crier here, a fair, sorry-looking
fellow, who scarcely moved his arms, was disposing of some lots of eels
and crawfish in a monotonous voice, while the assistants fished fresh
supplies out of the stone basins with their short-handled nets.

     [*] M. Zola refers, of course, to the earlier years of the
     Second Empire. Under the present republican Government,
     which has largely fostered fish culture, matters have
     considerably improved.--Translator.

However, the crowd round the salesmen’s desks was still increasing.
Monsieur Verlaque played his part as Florent’s instructor in the most
conscientious manner, clearing the way by means of his elbows, and
guiding his successor through the busiest parts. The upper-class retail
dealers were there, quietly waiting for some of the finer fish, or
loading the porters with their purchases of turbot, tunny, and salmon.
The street-hawkers who had clubbed together to buy lots of herrings and
small flat-fish were dividing them on the pavement. There were also some
people of the smaller middle class, from distant parts of the city, who
had come down at four o’clock in the morning to buy a really fresh fish,
and had ended by allowing some enormous lot, costing from forty to fifty
francs, to be knocked down to them, with the result that they would
be obliged to spend the whole day in getting their friends and
acquaintances to take the surplus off their hands. Every now and then
some violent pushing would force a gap through part of the crowd. A
fish-wife, who had got tightly jammed, freed herself, shaking her fists
and pouring out a torrent of abuse. Then a compact mass of people again
collected, and Florent, almost suffocated, declared that he had seen
quite enough, and understood all that was necessary.

As Monsieur Verlaque was helping him to extricate himself from the
crowd, they found themselves face to face with the handsome Norman.
She remained stock-still in front of them, and with her queenly air

“Well, is it quite settled? You are going to desert us, Monsieur

“Yes, yes,” replied the little man; “I am going to take a rest in the
country, at Clamart. The smell of the fish is bad for me, it seems.
Here, this is the gentleman who is going to take my place.”

So speaking he turned round to introduce Florent to her. The handsome
Norman almost choked; however, as Florent went off, he fancied he could
hear her whisper to her neighbours, with a laugh: “Well, we shall have
some fine fun now, see if we don’t!”

The fish-wives had begun to set out their stalls. From all the taps at
the corners of the marble slabs water was gushing freely; and there was
a rustling sound all round, like the plashing of rain, a streaming of
stiff jets of water hissing and spurting. And then, from the lower side
of the sloping slabs, great drops fell with a softened murmur, splashing
on the flagstones where a mass of tiny streams flowed along here
and there, turning holes and depressions into miniature lakes, and
afterwards gliding in a thousand rills down the slope towards the Rue
Rambuteau. A moist haze ascended, a sort of rainy dust, bringing fresh
whiffs of air to Florent’s face, whiffs of that salt, pungent sea breeze
which he remembered so well; while in such fish as was already laid out
he once more beheld the rosy nacres, gleaming corals, and milky pearls,
all the rippling colour and glaucous pallidity of the ocean world.

That first morning left him much in doubt; indeed, he regretted that he
had yielded to Lisa’s insistence. Ever since his escape from the greasy
drowsiness of the kitchen he had been accusing himself of base weakness
with such violence that tears had almost risen in his eyes. But he did
not dare to go back on his word. He was a little afraid of Lisa, and
could see the curl of her lips and the look of mute reproach upon her
handsome face. He felt that she was too serious a woman to be trifled
with. However, Gavard happily inspired him with a consoling thought.
On the evening of the day on which Monsieur Verlaque had conducted him
through the auction sales, Gavard took him aside and told him, with a
good deal of hesitation, that “the poor devil” was not at all well off.
And after various remarks about the scoundrelly Government which ground
the life out of its servants without allowing them even the means to die
in comfort, he ended by hinting that it would be charitable on Florent’s
part to surrender a part of his salary to the old inspector. Florent
welcomed the suggestion with delight. It was only right, he considered,
for he looked upon himself simply as Monsieur Verlaque’s temporary
substitute; and besides, he himself really required nothing, as he
boarded and lodged with his brother. Gavard added that he thought if
Florent gave up fifty francs out of the hundred and fifty which he
would receive monthly, the arrangement would be everything that could
be desired; and, lowering his voice, he added that it would not be for
long, for the poor fellow was consumptive to his very bones. Finally
it was settled that Florent should see Monsieur Verlaque’s wife, and
arrange matters with her, to avoid any possibility of hurting the old
man’s feelings.

The thought of this kindly action afforded Florent great relief, and he
now accepted his duties with the object of doing good, thus continuing
to play the part which he had been fulfilling all his life. However, he
made the poultry dealer promise that he would not speak of the matter
to anyone; and as Gavard also felt a vague fear of Lisa, he kept the
secret, which was really very meritorious in him.

And now the whole pork shop seemed happy. Handsome Lisa manifested the
greatest friendliness towards her brother-in-law. She took care that he
went to bed early, so as to be able to rise in good time; she kept his
breakfast hot for him; and she no longer felt ashamed at being seen
talking to him on the footway, now that he wore a laced cap. Quenu,
quite delighted by all these good signs, sat down to table in the
evening between his wife and brother with a lighter heart than ever.
They often lingered over dinner till nine o’clock, leaving the shop in
Augustine’s charge, and indulging in a leisurely digestion interspersed
with gossip about the neighbourhood, and the dogmatic opinions of Lisa
on political topics; Florent also had to relate how matters had gone in
the fish market that day. He gradually grew less frigid, and began
to taste the happiness of a well-regulated existence. There was a
well-to-do comfort and trimness about the light yellowish dining room
which had a softening influence upon him as soon as he crossed its
threshold. Handsome Lisa’s kindly attentions wrapped him, as it were, in
cotton-wool; and mutual esteem and concord reigned paramount.

Gavard, however, considered the Quenu-Gradelles’ home to be too drowsy.
He forgave Lisa her weakness for the Emperor, because, he said, one
ought never to discuss politics with women, and beautiful Madame
Quenu was, after all, a very worthy person, who managed her business
admirably. Nevertheless, he much preferred to spend his evenings at
Monsieur Lebigre’s, where he met a group of friends who shared his own
opinions. Thus when Florent was appointed to the inspectorship of the
fish market, Gavard began to lead him astray, taking him off for hours,
and prompting him to lead a bachelor’s life now that he had obtained a

Monsieur Lebigre was the proprietor of a very fine establishment, fitted
up in the modern luxurious style. Occupying the right-hand corner of the
Rue Pirouette, and looking on to the Rue Rambuteau, it formed, with its
four small Norwegian pines in green-painted tubs flanking the doorway, a
worthy pendant to the big pork shop of the Quenu-Gradelles. Through the
clear glass windows you could see the interior, which was decorated with
festoons of foliage, vine branches, and grapes, painted on a soft green
ground. The floor was tiled with large black and white squares. At
the far end was the yawning cellar entrance, above which rose a spiral
staircase hung with red drapery, and leading to the billiard-room on the
first floor. The counter or “bar” on the right looked especially rich,
and glittered like polished silver. Its zinc-work, hanging with a broad
bulging border over the sub-structure of white and red marble, edged it
with a rippling sheet of metal as if it were some high altar laden
with embroidery. At one end, over a gas stove, stood porcelain pots,
decorated with circles of brass, and containing punch and hot wine. At
the other extremity was a tall and richly sculptured marble fountain,
from which a fine stream of water, so steady and continuous that it
looked as though it were motionless, flowed into a basin. In the centre,
edged on three sides by the sloping zinc surface of the counter, was a
second basin for rinsing and cooling purposes, where quart bottles of
draught wine, partially empty, reared their greenish necks. Then on the
counter, to the right and left of this central basin, were batches
of glasses symmetrically arranged: little glasses for brandy, thick
tumblers for draught wine, cup glasses for brandied fruits, glasses for
absinthe, glass mugs for beer, and tall goblets, all turned upside down
and reflecting the glitter of the counter. On the left, moreover, was a
metal urn, serving as a receptacle for gratuities; whilst a similar one
on the right bristled with a fan-like arrangement of coffee spoons.

Monsieur Lebigre was generally to be found enthroned behind his counter
upon a seat covered with buttoned crimson leather. Within easy reach of
his hand were the liqueurs in cut-glass decanters protruding from the
compartments of a stand. His round back rested against a huge mirror
which completely filled the panel behind him; across it ran two glass
shelves supporting an array of jars and bottles. Upon one of them the
glass jars of preserved fruits, cherries, plums, and peaches, stood out
darkly; while on the other, between symmetrically arranged packets of
finger biscuits, were bright flasks of soft green and red and yellow
glass, suggesting strange mysterious liqueurs, or floral extracts of
exquisite limpidity. Standing on the glass shelf in the white glow of
the mirror, these flasks, flashing as if on fire, seemed to be suspended
in the air.

To give his premises the appearance of a cafe, Monsieur Lebigre had
placed two small tables of bronzed iron and four chairs against the
wall, in front of the counter. A chandelier with five lights and
frosted globes hung down from the ceiling. On the left was a round gilt
timepiece, above a _tourniquet_[*] fixed to the wall. Then at the far
end came the private “cabinet,” a corner of the shop shut off by a
partition glazed with frosted glass of a small square pattern. In the
daytime this little room received a dim light from a window that looked
on to the Rue Pirouette; and in the evening, a gas jet burnt over the
two tables painted to resemble marble. It was there that Gavard and
his political friends met each evening after dinner. They looked upon
themselves as being quite at home there, and had prevailed on the
landlord to reserve the place for them. When Monsieur Lebigre had closed
the door of the glazed partition, they knew themselves to be so safely
screened from intrusion that they spoke quite unreservedly of the great
“sweep out” which they were fond of discussing. No unprivileged customer
would have dared to enter.

     [*] This is a kind of dial turning on a pivot, and usually
     enclosed in a brass frame, from which radiate a few small
     handles or spokes. Round the face of the dial--usually of
     paper--are various numerals, and between the face and its
     glass covering is a small marble or wooden ball. The
     appliance is used in lieu of dice or coins when two or more
     customers are “tossing” for drinks. Each in turn sends the
     dial spinning round, and wins or loses according to the
     numeral against which the ball rests when the dial stops. As
     I can find no English name for the appliance, I have thought
     it best to describe it.--Translator.

On the first day that Gavard took Florent off he gave him some
particulars of Monsieur Lebigre. He was a good fellow, he said, who
sometimes came to drink his coffee with them; and, as he had said one
day that he had fought in ‘48, no one felt the least constraint in his
presence. He spoke but little, and seemed rather thick-headed. As the
gentlemen passed him on their way to the private room they grasped
his hand in silence across the glasses and bottles. By his side on
the crimson leather seat behind the counter there was generally a fair
little woman, whom he had engaged as counter assistant in addition
to the white-aproned waiter who attended to the tables and the
billiard-room. The young woman’s name was Rose, and she seemed a very
gentle and submissive being. Gavard, with a wink of his eye, told
Florent that he fancied Lebigre had a weakness for her. It was she, by
the way, who waited upon the friends in the private room, coming and
going, with her happy, humble air, amidst the stormiest political

Upon the day on which the poultry dealer took Florent to Lebigre’s to
present him to his friends, the only person whom the pair found in the
little room when they entered it was a man of some fifty years of age,
of a mild and thoughtful appearance. He wore a rather shabby-looking hat
and a long chestnut-coloured overcoat, and sat, with his chin resting
on the ivory knob of a thick cane, in front of a glass mug full of beer.
His mouth was so completely concealed by a vigorous growth of beard that
his face had a dumb, lipless appearance.

“How are you, Robine?” exclaimed Gavard.

Robine silently thrust out his hand, without making any reply, though
his eyes softened into a slight smile of welcome. Then he let his chin
drop on to the knob of his cane again, and looked at Florent over his
beer. Florent had made Gavard swear to keep his story a secret for fear
of some dangerous indiscretion; and he was not displeased to observe a
touch of distrust in the discreet demeanour of the gentleman with the
heavy beard. However, he was really mistaken in this, for Robine never
talked more than he did now. He was always the first to arrive, just
as the clock struck eight; and he always sat in the same corner, never
letting go his hold of his cane, and never taking off either his hat or
his overcoat. No one had ever seen him without his hat upon his head. He
remained there listening to the talk of the others till midnight, taking
four hours to empty his mug of beer, and gazing successively at the
different speakers as though he heard them with his eyes. When Florent
afterwards questioned Gavard about Robine, the poultry dealer spoke of
the latter as though he held him in high esteem. Robine, he asserted,
was an extremely clever and able man, and, though he was unable to say
exactly where he had given proof of his hostility to the established
order of things, he declared that he was one of the most dreaded of the
Government’s opponents. He lived in the Rue Saint Denis, in rooms
to which no one as a rule could gain admission. The poultry dealer,
however, asserted that he himself had once been in them. The wax floors,
he said, were protected by strips of green linen; and there were covers
over the furniture, and an alabaster timepiece with columns. He had
caught a glimpse of the back of a lady, who was just disappearing
through one doorway as he was entering by another, and had taken her
to be Madame Robine. She appeared to be an old lady of very genteel
appearance, with her hair arranged in corkscrew curls; but of this he
could not be quite certain. No one knew why they had taken up their
abode amidst all the uproar of a business neighbourhood; for the husband
did nothing at all, spending his days no one knew how and living on no
one knew what, though he made his appearance every evening as though he
were tired but delighted with some excursion into the highest regions of

“Well, have you read the speech from the throne?” asked Gavard, taking
up a newspaper that was lying on the table.

Robine shrugged his shoulders. Just at that moment, however, the door
of the glazed partition clattered noisily, and a hunchback made his
appearance. Florent at once recognised the deformed crier of the fish
market, though his hands were now washed and he was neatly dressed, with
his neck encircled by a great red muffler, one end of which hung down
over his hump like the skirt of a Venetian cloak.

“Ah, here’s Logre!” exclaimed the poultry dealer. “Now we shall hear
what he thinks about the speech from the throne.”

Logre, however, was apparently furious. To begin with he almost broke
the pegs off in hanging up his hat and muffler. Then he threw himself
violently into a chair, and brought his fist down on the table, while
tossing away the newspaper.

“Do you think I read their fearful lies?” he cried.

Then he gave vent to the anger raging within him. “Did ever anyone
hear,” he cried, “of masters making such fools of their people? For two
whole hours I’ve been waiting for my pay! There were ten of us in the
office kicking our heels there. Then at last Monsieur Manoury arrived
in a cab. Where he had come from I don’t know, and don’t care, but I’m
quite sure it wasn’t any respectable place. Those salesmen are all a
parcel of thieves and libertines! And then, too, the hog actually gave
me all my money in small change!”

Robine expressed his sympathy with Logre by the slight movement of his
eyelids. But suddenly the hunchback bethought him of a victim upon whom
to pour out his wrath. “Rose! Rose!” he cried, stretching his head out
of the little room.

The young woman quickly responded to the call, trembling all over.

“Well,” shouted Logre, “what do you stand staring at me like that for?
Much good that’ll do! You saw me come in, didn’t you? Why haven’t you
brought me my glass of black coffee, then?”

Gavard ordered two similar glasses, and Rose made all haste to bring
what was required, while Logre glared sternly at the glasses and little
sugar trays as if studying them. When he had taken a drink he seemed to
grow somewhat calmer.

“But it’s Charvet who must be getting bored,” he said presently. “He is
waiting outside on the pavement for Clemence.”

Charvet, however, now made his appearance, followed by Clemence. He was
a tall, scraggy young man, carefully shaved, with a skinny nose and
thin lips. He lived in the Rue Vavin, behind the Luxembourg, and called
himself a professor. In politics he was a disciple of Hebert.[*] He
wore his hair very long, and the collar and lapels of his threadbare
frock-coat were broadly turned back. Affecting the manner and speech of
a member of the National Convention, he would pour out such a flood of
bitter words and make such a haughty display of pedantic learning that
he generally crushed his adversaries. Gavard was afraid of him, though
he would not confess it; still, in Charvet’s absence he would say that
he really went too far. Robine, for his part, expressed approval
of everything with his eyes. Logre sometimes opposed Charvet on the
question of salaries; but the other was really the autocrat of
the coterie, having the greatest fund of information and the most
overbearing manner. For more than ten years he and Clemence had lived
together as man and wife, in accordance with a previously arranged
contract, the terms of which were strictly observed by both parties to
it. Florent looked at the young woman with some little surprise, but at
last he recollected where he had previously seen her. This was at the
fish auction. She was, indeed, none other than the tall dark female
clerk whom he had observed writing with outstretched fingers, after the
manner of one who had been carefully instructed in the art of holding a

     [*] Hebert, as the reader will remember, was the furious
     demagogue with the foul tongue and poisoned pen who edited
     the _Pere Duchesne_ at the time of the first French
     Revolution. We had a revival of his politics and his journal
     in Paris during the Commune of 1871.--Translator.

Rose made her appearance at the heels of the two newcomers. Without
saying a word she placed a mug of beer before Charvet and a tray before
Clemence, who in a leisurely way began to compound a glass of “grog,”
 pouring some hot water over a slice of lemon, which she crushed with
her spoon, and glancing carefully at the decanter as she poured out
some rum, so as not to add more of it than a small liqueur glass could

Gavard now presented Florent to the company, but more especially to
Charvet. He introduced them to one another as professors, and very able
men, who would be sure to get on well together. But it was probable that
he had already been guilty of some indiscretion, for all the men at once
shook hands with a tight and somewhat masonic squeeze of each other’s
fingers. Charvet, for his part, showed himself almost amiable; and
whether he and the others knew anything of Florent’s antecedents, they
at all events indulged in no embarrassing allusions.

“Did Manoury pay you in small change?” Logre asked Clemence.

She answered affirmatively, and produced a roll of francs and another of
two-franc pieces, and unwrapped them. Charvet watched her, and his eyes
followed the rolls as she replaced them in her pocket, after counting
their contents and satisfying herself that they were correct.

“We have our accounts to settle,” he said in a low voice.

“Yes, we’ll settle up to-night,” the young woman replied. “But we
are about even, I should think. I’ve breakfasted with you four times,
haven’t I? But I lent you a hundred sous last week, you know.”

Florent, surprised at hearing this, discreetly turned his head away.
Then Clemence slipped the last roll of silver into her pocket, drank a
little of her grog, and, leaning against the glazed partition, quietly
settled herself down to listen to the men talking politics. Gavard had
taken up the newspaper again, and, in tones which he strove to render
comic, was reading out some passages of the speech from the throne which
had been delivered that morning at the opening of the Chambers. Charvet
made fine sport of the official phraseology; there was not a single line
of it which he did not tear to pieces. One sentence afforded especial
amusement to them all. It was this: “We are confident, gentlemen,
that, leaning on your lights[*] and the conservative sentiments of the
country, we shall succeed in increasing the national prosperity day by

     [*] In the sense of illumination of mind. It has been
     necessary to give a literal translation of this phrase to
     enable the reader to realise the point of subsequent
     witticisms in which Clemence and Gavard indulge.

Logre rose up and repeated this sentence, and by speaking through his
nose succeeded fairly well in mimicking the Emperor’s drawling voice.

“It’s lovely, that prosperity of his; why, everyone’s dying of hunger!”
 said Charvet.

“Trade is shocking,” asserted Gavard.

“And what in the name of goodness is the meaning of anybody ‘leaning on
lights’?” continued Clemence, who prided herself upon literary culture.

Robine himself even allowed a faint laugh to escape from the depths of
his beard. The discussion began to grow warm. The party fell foul of
the Corps Legislatif, and spoke of it with great severity. Logre did not
cease ranting, and Florent found him the same as when he cried the fish
at the auctions--protruding his jaws and hurling his words forward with
a wave of the arm, whilst retaining the crouching attitude of a snarling
dog. Indeed, he talked politics in just the same furious manner as he
offered a tray full of soles for sale.

Charvet, on the other hand, became quieter and colder amidst the smoke
of the pipes and the fumes of the gas which were now filling the little
den; and his voice assumed a dry incisive tone, sharp like a guillotine
blade, while Robine gently wagged his head without once removing his
chin from the ivory knob of his cane. However, some remark of Gavard’s
led the conversation to the subject of women.

“Woman,” declared Charvet drily, “is the equal of man; and, that being
so, she ought not to inconvenience him in the management of his life.
Marriage is a partnership, in which everything should be halved. Isn’t
that so, Clemence?”

“Clearly so,” replied the young woman, leaning back with her head
against the wall and gazing into the air.

However, Florent now saw Lacaille, the costermonger, and Alexandre, the
porter, Claude Lantier’s friend, come into the little room. In the past
these two had long remained at the other table in the sanctum; they did
not belong to the same class as the others. By the help of politics,
however, their chairs had drawn nearer, and they had ended by forming
part of the circle. Charvet, in whose eyes they represented “the
people,” did his best to indoctrinate them with his advanced political
theories, while Gavard played the part of the shopkeeper free from
all social prejudices by clinking glasses with them. Alexandre was
a cheerful, good-humoured giant, with the manner of a big merry lad.
Lacaille, on the other hand, was embittered; his hair was already
grizzling; and, bent and wearied by his ceaseless perambulations through
the streets of Paris, he would at times glance loweringly at the placid
figure of Robine, and his sound boots and heavy coat.

That evening both Lacaille and Alexandre called for a liqueur glass of
brandy, and then the conversation was renewed with increased warmth and
excitement, the party being now quite complete. A little later,
while the door of the cabinet was left ajar, Florent caught sight of
Mademoiselle Saget standing in front of the counter. She had taken a
bottle from under her apron, and was watching Rose as the latter poured
into it a large measureful of black-currant syrup and a smaller one
of brandy. Then the bottle disappeared under the apron again, and
Mademoiselle Saget, with her hands out of sight, remained talking in the
bright glow of the counter, face to face with the big mirror, in which
the flasks and bottles of liqueurs were reflected like rows of Venetian
lanterns. In the evening all the metal and glass of the establishment
helped to illuminate it with wonderful brilliancy. The old maid,
standing there in her black skirts, looked almost like some big strange
insect amidst all the crude brightness. Florent noticed that she was
trying to inveigle Rose into a conversation, and shrewdly suspected that
she had caught sight of him through the half open doorway. Since he
had been on duty at the markets he had met her at almost every step,
loitering in one or another of the covered ways, and generally in the
company of Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette. He had noticed also that
the three women stealthily examined him, and seemed lost in amazement
at seeing him installed in the position of inspector. That evening,
however, Rose was no doubt loath to enter into conversation with the old
maid, for the latter at last turned round, apparently with the intention
of approaching Monsieur Lebigre, who was playing piquet with a customer
at one of the bronzed tables. Creeping quietly along, Mademoiselle
Saget had at last managed to install herself beside the partition of the
cabinet, when she was observed by Gavard, who detested her.

“Shut the door, Florent!” he cried unceremoniously. “We can’t even be by
ourselves, it seems!”

When midnight came and Lacaille went away he exchanged a few whispered
words with Monsieur Lebigre, and as the latter shook hands with him he
slipped four five-franc pieces into his palm, without anyone noticing
it. “That’ll make twenty-two francs that you’ll have to pay to-morrow,
remember,” he whispered in his ear. “The person who lends the money
won’t do it for less in future. Don’t forget, too, that you owe three
days’ truck hire. You must pay everything off.”

Then Monsieur Lebigre wished the friends good night. He was very sleepy
and should sleep well, he said, with a yawn which revealed his big
teeth, while Rose gazed at him with an air of submissive humility.
However, he gave her a push, and told her to go and turn out the gas in
the little room.

On reaching the pavement, Gavard stumbled and nearly fell. And being in
a humorous vein, he thereupon exclaimed: “Confound it all! At any rate,
I don’t seem to be leaning on anybody’s lights.”

This remark seemed to amuse the others, and the party broke up. A little
later Florent returned to Lebigre’s, and indeed he became quite attached
to the “cabinet,” finding a seductive charm in Robine’s contemplative
silence, Logre’s fiery outbursts, and Charvet’s cool venom. When he went
home, he did not at once retire to bed. He had grown very fond of his
attic, that girlish bedroom, where Augustine had left scraps of ribbons,
souvenirs, and other feminine trifles lying about. There still remained
some hair-pins on the mantelpiece, with gilt cardboard boxes of buttons
and lozenges, cutout pictures, and empty pomade pots that retained an
odour of jasmine. Then there were some reels of thread, needles, and
a missal lying by the side of a soiled Dream-book in the drawer of
the rickety deal table. A white summer dress with yellow spots
hung forgotten from a nail; while upon the board which served as a
toilet-table a big stain behind the water-jug showed where a bottle of
bandoline had been overturned. The little chamber, with its narrow iron
bed, its two rush-bottomed chairs, and its faded grey wallpaper,
was instinct with innocent simplicity. The plain white curtains, the
childishness suggested by the cardboard boxes and the Dream-book, and
the clumsy coquetry which had stained the walls, all charmed Florent and
brought him back to dreams of youth. He would have preferred not to
have known that plain, wiry-haired Augustine, but to have been able to
imagine that he was occupying the room of a sister, some bright sweet
girl of whose budding womanhood every trifle around him spoke.

Yet another pleasure which he took was to lean out of the garret window
at nighttime. In front of it was a narrow ledge of roof, enclosed by
an iron railing, and forming a sort of balcony, on which Augustine had
grown a pomegranate in a box. Since the nights had turned cold, Florent
had brought the pomegranate indoors and kept it by the foot of his bed
till morning. He would linger for a few minutes by the open window,
inhaling deep draughts of the sharp fresh air which was wafted up from
the Seine, over the housetops of the Rue de Rivoli. Below him the roofs
of the markets spread confusedly in a grey expanse, like slumbering
lakes on whose surface the furtive reflection of a pane of glass gleamed
every now and then like a silvery ripple. Farther away the roofs of the
meat and poultry pavilions lay in deeper gloom, and became mere masses
of shadow barring the horizon. Florent delighted in the great stretch of
open sky in front of him, in that spreading expanse of the markets which
amidst all the narrow city streets brought him a dim vision of some
strip of sea coast, of the still grey waters of a bay scarce quivering
from the roll of the distant billows. He used to lose himself in dreams
as he stood there; each night he conjured up the vision of some fresh
coast line. To return in mind to the eight years of despair which he had
spent away from France rendered him both very sad and very happy. Then
at last, shivering all over, he would close the window. Often, as he
stood in front of the fireplace taking off his collar, the photograph of
Auguste and Augustine would fill him with disquietude. They seemed to be
watching him as they stood there, hand in hand, smiling faintly.

Florent’s first few weeks at the fish market were very painful to him.
The Mehudins treated him with open hostility, which infected the whole
market with a spirit of opposition. The beautiful Norman intended to
revenge herself on the handsome Lisa, and the latter’s cousin seemed a
victim ready to hand.

The Mehudins came from Rouen. Louise’s mother still related how she had
first arrived in Paris with a basket of eels. She had ever afterwards
remained in the fish trade. She had married a man employed in the Octroi
service, who had died leaving her with two little girls. It was she who
by her full figure and glowing freshness had won for herself in earlier
days the nickname of “the beautiful Norman,” which her eldest daughter
had inherited. Now five and sixty years of age, Madame Mehudin had
become flabby and shapeless, and the damp air of the fish market had
rendered her voice rough and hoarse, and given a bluish tinge to her
skin. Sedentary life had made her extremely bulky, and her head was
thrown backwards by the exuberance of her bosom. She had never been
willing to renounce the fashions of her younger days, but still wore
the flowered gown, the yellow kerchief, and turban-like head-gear of
the classic fish-wife, besides retaining the latter’s loud voice and
rapidity of gesture as she stood with her hands on her hips, shouting
out the whole abusive vocabulary of her calling.

She looked back regretfully to the old Marche des Innocents, which the
new central markets had supplanted. She would talk of the ancient rights
of the market “ladies,” and mingle stories of fisticuffs exchanged with
the police with reminiscences of the visits she had paid the Court in
the time of Charles X and Louis Philippe, dressed in silk, and carrying
a bouquet of flowers in her hand. Old Mother Mehudin, as she was now
generally called, had for a long time been the banner-bearer of the
Sisterhood of the Virgin at St. Leu. She would relate that in the
processions in the church there she had worn a dress and cap of tulle
trimmed with satin ribbons, whilst holding aloft in her puffy fingers
the gilded staff of the richly-fringed silk standard on which the figure
of the Holy Mother was embroidered.

According to the gossip of the neighbourhood, the old woman had made a
fairly substantial fortune, though the only signs of it were the massive
gold ornaments with which she loaded her neck and arms and bosom on
important occasions. Her two daughters got on badly together as they
grew up. The younger one, Claire, an idle, fair-complexioned girl,
complained of the ill-treatment which she received from her sister
Louise, protesting, in her languid voice, that she could never submit to
be the other’s servant. As they would certainly have ended by coming
to blows, their mother separated them. She gave her stall in the fish
market to Louise, while Claire, whom the smell of the skate and the
herrings affected in the lungs, installed herself among the fresh water
fish. And from that time the old mother, although she pretended to
have retired from business altogether, would flit from one stall to the
other, still interfering in the selling of the fish, and causing her
daughters continual annoyance by the foul insolence with which she would
at times speak to customers.

Claire was a fantastical creature, very gentle in her manner, and yet
continually at loggerheads with others. People said that she invariably
followed her own whimsical inclinations. In spite of her dreamy, girlish
face she was imbued with a nature of silent firmness, a spirit of
independence which prompted her to live apart; she never took things
as other people did, but would one day evince perfect fairness, and the
next day arrant injustice. She would sometimes throw the market into
confusion by suddenly increasing or lowering the prices at her stall,
without anyone being able to guess her reason for doing so. She
herself would refuse to explain her motive. By the time she reached her
thirtieth year, her delicate physique and fine skin, which the water
of the tanks seemed to keep continually fresh and soft, her small,
faintly-marked face and lissome limbs would probably become heavy,
coarse, and flabby, till she would look like some faded saint that had
stepped from a stained-glass window into the degrading sphere of the
markets. At twenty-two, however, Claire, in the midst of her carp and
eels, was, to use Claude Lantier’s expression, a Murillo. A Murillo,
that is, whose hair was often in disorder, who wore heavy shoes and
clumsily cut dresses, which left her without any figure. But she was
free from all coquetry, and she assumed an air of scornful contempt when
Louise, displaying her bows and ribbons, chaffed her about her clumsily
knotted neckerchiefs. Moreover, she was virtuous; it was said that the
son of a rich shopkeeper in the neighbourhood had gone abroad in despair
at having failed to induce her to listen to his suit.

Louise, the beautiful Norman, was of a different nature. She had been
engaged to be married to a clerk in the corn market; but a sack of flour
falling upon the young man had broken his back and killed him. Not very
long afterwards Louise had given birth to a boy. In the Mehudins’ circle
of acquaintance she was looked upon as a widow; and the old fish-wife
in conversation would occasionally refer to the time when her son-in-law
was alive.

The Mehudins were a power in the markets. When Monsieur Verlaque had
finished instructing Florent in his new duties, he advised him to
conciliate certain of the stall-holders, if he wished his life to be
endurable; and he even carried his sympathy so far as to put him in
possession of the little secrets of the office, such as the various
little breaches of rule that it was necessary to wink at, and those
at which he would have to feign stern displeasure; and also the
circumstances under which he might accept a small present. A market
inspector is at once a constable and a magistrate; he has to maintain
proper order and cleanliness, and settle in a conciliatory spirit
all disputes between buyers and sellers. Florent, who was of a weak
disposition put on an artificial sternness when he was obliged to
exercise his authority, and generally over-acted his part. Moreover, his
gloomy, pariah-like face and bitterness of spirit, the result of long
suffering, were against him.

The beautiful Norman’s idea was to involve him in some quarrel or other.
She had sworn that he would not keep his berth a fortnight. “That fat
Lisa’s much mistaken,” said she one morning on meeting Madame Lecoeur,
“if she thinks that she’s going to put people over us. We don’t want
such ugly wretches here. That sweetheart of hers is a perfect fright!”

After the auctions, when Florent commenced his round of inspection,
strolling slowly through the dripping alleys, he could plainly see the
beautiful Norman watching him with an impudent smile on her face. Her
stall, which was in the second row on the left, near the fresh water
fish department faced the Rue Rambuteau. She would turn round, however,
and never take her eyes off her victim whilst making fun of him with
her neighbours. And when he passed in front of her, slowly examining the
slabs, she feigned hilarious merriment, slapped her fish with her hand,
and turned her jets of water on at full stream, flooding the pathway.
Nevertheless Florent remained perfectly calm.

At last, one morning as was bound to happen, war broke out. As Florent
reached La Normande’s stall that day an unbearable stench assailed
his nostrils. On the marble slab, in addition to part of a magnificent
salmon, showing its soft roseate flesh, there lay some turbots of creamy
whiteness, a few conger-eels pierced with black pins to mark their
divisions, several pairs of soles, and some bass and red mullet--in
fact, quite a display of fresh fish. But in the midst of it, amongst
all these fish whose eyes still gleamed and whose gills were of a bright
crimson, there lay a huge skate of a ruddy tinge, splotched with dark
stains--superb, indeed, with all its strange colourings. Unfortunately,
it was rotten; its tail was falling off and the ribs of its fins were
breaking through the skin.

“You must throw that skate away,” said Florent as he came up.

The beautiful Norman broke into a slight laugh. Florent raised his eyes
and saw her standing before him, with her back against the bronze lamp
post which lighted the stalls in her division. She had mounted upon
a box to keep her feet out of the damp, and appeared very tall as he
glanced at her. She looked also handsomer than usual, with her
hair arranged in little curls, her sly face slightly bent, her lips
compressed, and her hands showing somewhat too rosily against her big
white apron. Florent had never before seen her decked with so much
jewellery. She had long pendants in her ears, a chain round her neck, a
brooch in her dress body, and quite a collection of rings on two fingers
of her left hand and one of her right.

As she still continued to look slyly at Florent, without making any
reply, the latter continued: “Do you hear? You must remove that skate.”

He had not yet noticed the presence of old Madame Mehudin, who sat all
of a heap on a chair in a corner. She now got up, however, and, with her
fists resting on the marble slap, insolently exclaimed: “Dear me! And
why is she to throw her skate away? You won’t pay her for it, I’ll bet!”

Florent immediately understood the position. The women at the other
stalls began to titter, and he felt that he was surrounded by covert
rebellion, which a word might cause to blaze forth. He therefore
restrained himself, and in person drew the refuse-pail from under the
stall and dropped the skate into it. Old Madame Mehudin had already
stuck her hands on her hips, while the beautiful Norman, who had not
spoken a word, burst into another malicious laugh as Florent strode
sternly away amidst a chorus of jeers, which he pretended not to hear.

Each day now some new trick was played upon him, and he was obliged to
walk through the market alleys as warily as though he were in a hostile
country. He was splashed with water from the sponges employed to
cleanse the slabs; he stumbled and almost fell over slippery refuse
intentionally spread in his way; and even the porters contrived to run
their baskets against the nape of his neck. One day, moreover, when two
of the fish-wives were quarrelling, and he hastened up to prevent them
coming to blows, he was obliged to duck in order to escape being slapped
on either cheek by a shower of little dabs which passed over his head.
There was a general outburst of laughter on this occasion, and Florent
always believed that the two fish-wives were in league with the
Mehudins. However, his old-time experiences as a teacher had endowed
him with angelic patience, and he was able to maintain a magisterial
coolness of manner even when anger was hotly rising within him, and
his whole being quivered with a sense of humiliation. Still, the young
scamps of the Rue de l’Estrapade had never manifested the savagery
of these fish-wives, the cruel tenacity of these huge females, whose
massive figures heaved and shook with a giant-like joy whenever he fell
into any trap. They stared him out of countenance with their red faces;
and in the coarse tones of their voices and the impudent gesture of
their hands he could read volumes of filthy abuse levelled at himself.
Gavard would have been quite in his element amidst all these petticoats,
and would have freely cuffed them all round; but Florent, who had
always been afraid of women, gradually felt overwhelmed as by a sort
of nightmare in which giant women, buxom beyond all imagination,
danced threateningly around him, shouting at him in hoarse voices and
brandishing bare arms, as massive as any prize-fighter’s.

Amongst this hoard of females, however, Florent had one friend. Claire
unhesitatingly declared that the new inspector was a very good fellow.
When he passed in front of her, pursued by the coarse abuse of the
others, she gave him a pleasant smile, sitting nonchalantly behind her
stall, with unruly errant locks of pale hair straying over her neck and
her brow, and the bodice of her dress pinned all askew. He also often
saw her dipping her hands into her tanks, transferring the fish from
one compartment to another, and amusing herself by turning on the brass
taps, shaped like little dolphins with open mouths, from which the water
poured in streamlets. Amidst the rustling sound of the water she had
some of the quivering grace of a girl who has just been bathing and has
hurriedly slipped on her clothes.

One morning she was particularly amiable. She called the inspector to
her to show him a huge eel which had been the wonder of the market
when exhibited at the auction. She opened the grating, which she had
previously closed over the basin in whose depths the eel seemed to be
lying sound asleep.

“Wait a moment,” she said, “and I’ll show it to you.”

Then she gently slipped her bare arm into the water; it was not a very
plump arm, and its veins showed softly blue beneath its satiny skin. As
soon as the eel felt her touch, it rapidly twisted round, and seemed to
fill the narrow trough with its glistening greenish coils. And directly
it had settled down to rest again Claire once more stirred it with her

“It is an enormous creature,” Florent felt bound to say. “I have rarely
seen such a fine one.”

Claire thereupon confessed to him that she had at first been frightened
of eels; but now she had learned how to tighten her grip so that they
could not slip away. From another compartment she took a smaller one,
which began to wriggle both with head and tail, as she held it about
the middle in her closed fist. This made her laugh. She let it go, then
seized another and another, scouring the basin and stirring up the whole
heap of snaky-looking creatures with her slim fingers.

Afterwards she began to speak of the slackness of trade. The hawkers on
the foot-pavement of the covered way did the regular saleswomen a great
deal of injury, she said. Meantime her bare arm, which she had not
wiped, was glistening and dripping with water. Big drops trickled from
each finger.

“Oh,” she exclaimed suddenly, “I must show you my carp, too!”

She now removed another grating, and, using both hands, lifted out a
large carp, which began to flap its tail and gasp. It was too big to be
held conveniently, so she sought another one. This was smaller, and she
could hold it with one hand, but the latter was forced slightly open
by the panting of the sides each time that the fish gasped. To amuse
herself it occurred to Claire to pop the tip of her thumb into the
carp’s mouth whilst it was dilated. “It won’t bite,” said she with her
gentle laugh; “it’s not spiteful. No more are the crawfishes; I’m not
the least afraid of them.”

She plunged her arm into the water again, and from a compartment full
of a confused crawling mass brought up a crawfish that had caught her
little finger in its claws. She gave the creature a shake, but it no
doubt gripped her too tightly, for she turned very red, and snapped off
its claw with a quick, angry gesture, though still continuing to smile.

“By the way,” she continued quickly, to conceal her emotion, “I wouldn’t
trust myself with a pike; he’d cut off my fingers like a knife.”

She thereupon showed him some big pike arranged in order of size upon
clean scoured shelves, beside some bronze-hued tench and little heaps of
gudgeon. Her hands were now quite slimy with handling the carp, and as
she stood there in the dampness rising from the tanks, she held them
outstretched over the dripping fish on the stall. She seemed enveloped
by an odour of spawn, that heavy scent which rises from among the reeds
and water-lilies when the fish, languid in the sunlight, discharge their
eggs. Then she wiped her hands on her apron, still smiling the placid
smile of a girl who knew nothing of passion in that quivering atmosphere
of the frigid loves of the river.

The kindliness which Claire showed to Florent was but a slight
consolation to him. By stopping to talk to the girl he only drew upon
himself still coarser jeers from the other stallkeepers. Claire shrugged
her shoulders, and said that her mother was an old jade, and her sister
a worthless creature. The injustice of the market folk towards the new
inspector filled her with indignation. The war between them, however,
grew more bitter every day. Florent had serious thoughts of resigning
his post; indeed, he would not have retained it for another twenty-four
hours if he had not been afraid that Lisa might imagine him to be a
coward. He was frightened of what she might say and what she might
think. She was naturally well aware of the contest which was going on
between the fish-wives and their inspector; for the whole echoing market
resounded with it, and the entire neighbourhood discussed each fresh
incident with endless comments.

“Ah, well,” Lisa would often say in the evening, after dinner, “I’d soon
bring them to reason if I had anything to do with them! Why, they are a
lot of dirty jades that I wouldn’t touch with the tip of my finger! That
Normande is the lowest of the low! I’d soon crush her, that I would! You
should really use your authority, Florent. You are wrong to behave as
you do. Put your foot down, and they’ll all come to their senses very
quickly, you’ll see.”

A terrible climax was presently reached. One morning the servant of
Madame Taboureau, the baker, came to the market to buy a brill; and
the beautiful Norman, having noticed her lingering near her stall for
several minutes, began to make overtures to her in a coaxing way: “Come
and see me; I’ll suit you,” she said. “Would you like a pair of soles,
or a fine turbot?”

Then as the servant at last came up, and sniffed at a brill with that
dissatisfied pout which buyers assume in the hope of getting what they
want at a lower price, La Normande continued:

“Just feel the weight of that, now,” and so saying she laid the brill,
wrapped in a sheet of thick yellow paper, on the woman’s open palm.

The servant, a mournful little woman from Auvergne, felt the weight of
the brill, and examined its gills, still pouting, and saying not a word.

“And how much do you want for it?” she asked presently, in a reluctant

“Fifteen francs,” replied La Normande.

At this the servant hastily laid the brill on the stall again, and
seemed anxious to hurry away, but the other detained her. “Wait a
moment,” said she. “What do you offer?”

“No, no, I can’t take it. It is much too dear.”

“Come, now, make me an offer.”

“Well, will you take eight francs?”

Old Madame Mehudin, who was there, suddenly seemed to wake up, and
broke out into a contemptuous laugh. Did people think that she and her
daughter stole the fish they sold? “Eight francs for a brill that size!”
 she exclaimed. “You’ll be wanting one for nothing next, to use as a
cooling plaster!”

Meantime La Normande turned her head away, as though greatly offended.
However, the servant came back twice and offered nine francs; and
finally she increased her bid to ten.

“All right, come on, give me your money!” cried the fish-girl, seeing
that the woman was now really going away.

The servant took her stand in front of the stall and entered into a
friendly gossip with old Madame Mehudin. Madame Taboureau, she said, was
so exacting! She had got some people coming to dinner that evening, some
cousins from Blois a notary and his wife. Madame Taboureau’s family,
she added, was a very respectable one, and she herself, although only a
baker, had received an excellent education.

“You’ll clean it nicely for me, won’t you?” added the woman, pausing in
her chatter.

With a jerk of her finger La Normande had removed the fish’s entrails
and tossed them into a pail. Then she slipped a corner of her apron
under its gills to wipe away a few grains of sand. “There, my dear,” she
said, putting the fish into the servant’s basket, “you’ll come back to
thank me.”

Certainly the servant did come back a quarter of an hour afterwards,
but it was with a flushed, red face. She had been crying, and her little
body was trembling all over with anger. Tossing the brill on to the
marble slab, she pointed to a broad gash in its belly that reached the
bone. Then a flood of broken words burst from her throat, which was
still contracted by sobbing: “Madame Taboureau won’t have it. She says
she couldn’t put it on her table. She told me, too, that I was an idiot,
and let myself be cheated by anyone. You can see for yourself that the
fish is spoilt. I never thought of turning it round; I quite trusted
you. Give me my ten francs back.”

“You should look at what you buy,” the handsome Norman calmly observed.

And then, as the servant was just raising her voice again, old Madame
Mehudin got up. “Just you shut up!” she cried. “We’re not going to take
back a fish that’s been knocking about in other people’s houses. How do
we know that you didn’t let it fall and damage it yourself?”

“I! I damage it!” The little servant was choking with indignation. “Ah!
you’re a couple of thieves!” she cried, sobbing bitterly. “Yes, a couple
of thieves! Madame Taboureau herself told me so!”

Matters then became uproarious. Boiling over with rage and brandishing
their fists, both mother and daughter fairly exploded; while the poor
little servant, quite bewildered by their voices, the one hoarse and
the other shrill, which belaboured her with insults as though they were
battledores and she a shuttlecock, sobbed on more bitterly than ever.

“Be off with you! Your Madame Taboureau would like to be half as fresh
as that fish is! She’d like us to sew it up for her, no doubt!”

“A whole fish for ten francs! What’ll she want next!”

Then came coarse words and foul accusations. Had the servant been
the most worthless of her sex she could not have been more bitterly

Florent, whom the market keeper had gone to fetch, made his appearance
when the quarrel was at its hottest. The whole pavilion seemed to be
in a state of insurrection. The fish-wives, who manifest the keenest
jealousy of each other when the sale of a penny herring is in question,
display a united front when a quarrel arises with a buyer. They sang the
popular old ditty, “The baker’s wife has heaps of crowns, which cost her
precious little”; they stamped their feet, and goaded the Mehudins
as though the latter were dogs which they were urging on to bite and
devour. And there were even some, having stalls at the other end of
the alley, who rushed up wildly, as though they meant to spring at the
chignon of the poor little woman, she meantime being quite submerged by
the flood of insulting abuse poured upon her.

“Return mademoiselle her ten francs,” said Florent sternly, when he had
learned what had taken place.

But old Madame Mehudin had her blood up. “As for you, my little man,”
 quoth she, “go to blazes! Here, that’s how I’ll return the ten francs!”

As she spoke, she flung the brill with all her force at the head of
Madame Taboureau’s servant, who received it full in the face. The blood
spurted from her nose, and the brill, after adhering for a moment to
her cheeks, fell to the ground and burst with a flop like that of a wet
clout. This brutal act threw Florent into a fury. The beautiful Norman
felt frightened and recoiled, as he cried out: “I suspend you for a
week, and I will have your licence withdrawn. You hear me?”

Then, as the other fish-wives were still jeering behind him, he turned
round with such a threatening air that they quailed like wild beasts
mastered by the tamer, and tried to assume an expression of innocence.
When the Mehudins had returned the ten francs, Florent peremptorily
ordered them to cease selling at once. The old woman was choking with
rage, while the daughter kept silent, but turned very white. She, the
beautiful Norman, to be driven out of her stall!

Claire said in her quiet voice that it served her mother and sister
right, a remark which nearly resulted in the two girls tearing each
other’s hair out that evening when they returned home to the Rue
Pirouette. However, when the Mehudins came back to the market at the
week’s end, they remained very quiet, reserved, and curt of speech,
though full of a cold-blooded wrath. Moreover, they found the pavilion
quite calm and restored to order again. From that day forward the
beautiful Norman must have harboured the thought of some terrible
vengeance. She felt that she really had Lisa to thank for what had
happened. She had met her, the day after the battle, carrying her head
so high, that she had sworn she would make her pay dearly for her glance
of triumph. She held interminable confabulations with Madame Saget,
Madame Lecoeur, and La Sarriette, in quiet corners of the market;
however, all their chatter about the shameless conduct which they
slanderously ascribed to Lisa and her cousin, and about the hairs which
they declared were found in Quenu’s chitterlings, brought La Normande
little consolation. She was trying to think of some very malicious plan
of vengeance, which would strike her rival to the heart.

Her child was growing up in the fish market in all freedom and neglect.
When but three years old the youngster had been brought there, and day
by day remained squatting on some rag amidst the fish. He would fall
asleep beside the big tunnies as though he were one of them, and awake
among the mackerel and whiting. The little rascal smelt of fish as
strongly as though he were some big fish’s offspring. For a long time
his favourite pastime, whenever his mother’s back was turned, was to
build walls and houses of herrings; and he would also play at soldiers
on the marble slab, arranging the red gurnets in confronting lines,
pushing them against each other, and battering their heads, while
imitating the sound of drum and trumpet with his lips; after which he
would throw them all into a heap again, and exclaim that they were dead.
When he grew older he would prowl about his aunt Claire’s stall to get
hold of the bladders of the carp and pike which she gutted. He placed
them on the ground and made them burst, an amusement which afforded
him vast delight. When he was seven he rushed about the alleys, crawled
under the stalls, ferreted amongst the zinc bound fish boxes, and became
the spoiled pet of all the women. Whenever they showed him something
fresh which pleased him, he would clasp his hands and exclaim in
ecstasy, “Oh, isn’t it stunning!” _Muche_ was the exact word which he
used; _muche_ being the equivalent of “stunning” in the lingo of the
markets; and he used the expression so often that it clung to him as a
nickname. He became known all over the place as “Muche.” It was Muche
here, there and everywhere; no one called him anything else. He was to
be met with in every nook; in out-of-the-way corners of the offices in
the auction pavilion; among the piles of oyster baskets, and betwixt the
buckets where the refuse was thrown. With a pinky fairness of skin, he
was like a young barbel frisking and gliding about in deep water. He
was as fond of running, streaming water as any young fry. He was
ever dabbling in the pools in the alleys. He wetted himself with the
drippings from the tables, and when no one was looking often slyly
turned on the taps, rejoicing in the bursting gush of water. But it was
especially beside the fountains near the cellar steps that his mother
went to seek him in the evening, and she would bring him thence with his
hands quite blue, and his shoes, and even his pockets, full of water.

At seven years old Muche was as pretty as an angel, and as coarse in his
manners as any carter. He had curly chestnut hair, beautiful eyes,
and an innocent-looking mouth which gave vent to language that even a
gendarme would have hesitated to use. Brought up amidst all the ribaldry
and profanity of the markets, he had the whole vocabulary of the place
on the tip of his tongue. With his hands on his hips he often mimicked
Grandmother Mehudin in her anger, and at these times the coarsest and
vilest expressions would stream from his lips in a voice of crystalline
purity that might have belonged to some little chorister chanting the
_Ave Maria_. He would even try to assume a hoarse roughness of tone,
seek to degrade and taint that exquisite freshness of childhood which
made him resemble a _bambino_ on the Madonna’s knees. The fish-wives
laughed at him till they cried; and he, encouraged, could scarcely say a
couple of words without rapping out an oath. But in spite of all this he
still remained charming, understanding nothing of the dirt amidst which
he lived, kept in vigorous health by the fresh breezes and sharp odours
of the fish market, and reciting his vocabulary of coarse indecencies
with as pure a face as though he were saying his prayers.

The winter was approaching, and Muche seemed very sensitive to the cold.
As soon as the chilly weather set in he manifested a strong predilection
for the inspector’s office. This was situated in the left-hand corner of
the pavilion, on the side of the Rue Rambuteau. The furniture consisted
of a table, a stack of drawers, an easy-chair, two other chairs, and a
stove. It was this stove which attracted Muche. Florent quite worshipped
children, and when he saw the little fellow, with his dripping legs,
gazing wistfully through the window, he made him come inside. His first
conversation with the lad caused him profound amazement. Muche sat down
in front of the stove, and in his quiet voice exclaimed: “I’ll just
toast my toes, do you see? It’s d----d cold this morning.” Then he broke
into a rippling laugh, and added: “Aunt Claire looks awfully blue this
morning. Is it true, sir, that you are sweet on her?”

Amazed though he was, Florent felt quite interested in the odd little
fellow. The handsome Norman retained her surly bearing, but allowed
her son to frequent the inspector’s office without a word of objection.
Florent consequently concluded that he had the mother’s permission to
receive the boy, and every afternoon he asked him in; by degrees forming
the idea of turning him into a steady, respectable young fellow. He
could almost fancy that his brother Quenu had grown little again, and
that they were both in the big room in the Rue Royer-Collard once more.
The life which his self-sacrificing nature pictured to him as perfect
happiness was a life spent with some young being who would never grow
up, whom he could go on teaching for ever, and in whose innocence he
might still love his fellow man. On the third day of his acquaintance
with Muche he brought an alphabet to the office, and the lad delighted
him by the intelligence he manifested. He learned his letters with all
the sharp precocity which marks the Parisian street arab, and derived
great amusement from the woodcuts illustrating the alphabet.

He found opportunities, too, for plenty of fine fun in the little
office, where the stove still remained the chief attraction and a source
of endless enjoyment. At first he cooked potatoes and chestnuts at it,
but presently these seemed insipid, and he thereupon stole some gudgeons
from his aunt Claire, roasted them one by one, suspended from a string
in front of the glowing fire, and then devoured them with gusto, though
he had no bread. One day he even brought a carp with him; but it was
impossible to roast it sufficiently, and it made such a smell in the
office that both window and door had to be thrown open. Sometimes, when
the odour of all these culinary operations became too strong, Florent
would throw the fish into the street, but as a rule he only laughed. By
the end of a couple of months Muche was able to read fairly well, and
his copy-books did him credit.

Meantime, every evening the lad wearied his mother with his talk about
his good friend Florent. His good friend Florent had drawn him pictures
of trees and of men in huts, said he. His good friend Florent waved his
arm and said that men would be far better if they all knew how to read.
And at last La Normande heard so much about Florent that she seemed
to be almost intimate with this man against whom she harboured so much
rancour. One day she shut Muche up at home to prevent him from going to
the inspector’s, but he cried so bitterly that she gave him his liberty
again on the following morning. There was very little determination
about her, in spite of her broad shoulders and bold looks. When the lad
told her how nice and warm he had been in the office, and came back to
her with his clothes quite dry, she felt a sort of vague gratitude, a
pleasure in knowing that he had found a shelter-place where he could sit
with his feet in front of a fire. Later on, she was quite touched when
he read her some words from a scrap of soiled newspaper wrapped round
a slice of conger-eel. By degrees, indeed, she began to think, though
without admitting it, that Florent could not really be a bad sort of
fellow. She felt respect for his knowledge, mingled with an increasing
curiosity to see more of him and learn something of his life. Then, all
at once, she found an excuse for gratifying this inquisitiveness. She
would use it as a means of vengeance. It would be fine fun to make
friends with Florent and embroil him with that great fat Lisa.

“Does your good friend Florent ever speak to you about me?” she asked
Muche one morning as she was dressing him.

“Oh, no,” replied the boy. “We enjoy ourselves.”

“Well, you can tell him that I’ve quite forgiven him, and that I’m much
obliged to him for having taught you to read.”

Thenceforward the child was entrusted with some message every day. He
went backwards and forwards from his mother to the inspector, and from
the inspector to his mother, charged with kindly words and questions and
answers, which he repeated mechanically without knowing their meaning.
He might, indeed, have been safely trusted with the most compromising
communications. However, the beautiful Norman felt afraid of appearing
timid, and so one day she herself went to the inspector’s office and sat
down on the second chair, while Muche was having his writing lesson.
She proved very suave and complimentary, and Florent was by far the more
embarrassed of the two. They only spoke of the lad; and when Florent
expressed a fear that he might not be able to continue the lessons
in the office, La Normande invited him to come to their home in the
evening. She spoke also of payment; but at this he blushed, and said
that he certainly would not come if any mention were made of money.
Thereupon the young woman determined in her own mind that she would
recompense him with presents of choice fish.

Peace was thus made between them; the beautiful Norman even took Florent
under her protection. Apart from this, however, the whole market was
becoming reconciled to the new inspector, the fish-wives arriving at the
conclusion that he was really a better fellow than Monsieur Verlaque,
notwithstanding his strange eyes. It was only old Madame Mehudin who
still shrugged her shoulders, full of rancour as she was against the
“long lanky-guts,” as she contemptuously called him. And then, too, a
strange thing happened. One morning, when Florent stopped with a smile
before Claire’s tanks, the girl dropped an eel which she was holding and
angrily turned her back upon him, her cheeks quite swollen and reddened
by temper. The inspector was so much astonished that he spoke to La
Normande about it.

“Oh, never mind her,” said the young woman; “she’s cracked. She makes
a point of always differing from everybody else. She only behaved like
that to annoy me.”

La Normande was now triumphant--she strutted about her stall, and became
more coquettish than ever, arranging her hair in the most elaborate
manner. Meeting the handsome Lisa one day she returned her look of
scorn, and even burst out laughing in her face. The certainty she felt
of driving the mistress of the pork shop to despair by winning her
cousin from her endowed her with a gay, sonorous laugh, which rolled up
from her chest and rippled her white plump neck. She now had the whim
of dressing Muche very showily in a little Highland costume and velvet
bonnet. The lad had never previously worn anything but a tattered
blouse. It unfortunately happened, however, that just about this time he
again became very fond of the water. The ice had melted and the weather
was mild, so he gave his Scotch jacket a bath, turning the fountain tap
on at full flow and letting the water pour down his arm from his elbow
to his hand. He called this “playing at gutters.” Then a little later,
when his mother came up and caught him, she found him with two other
young scamps watching a couple of little fishes swimming about in his
velvet cap, which he had filled with water.

For nearly eight months Florent lived in the markets, feeling continual
drowsiness. After his seven years of suffering he had lighted upon such
calm quietude, such unbroken regularity of life, that he was scarcely
conscious of existing. He gave himself up to this jog-trot peacefulness
with a dazed sort of feeling, continually experiencing surprise at
finding himself each morning in the same armchair in the little office.
This office with its bare hut-like appearance had a charm for him. He
here found a quiet and secluded refuge amidst that ceaseless roar of the
markets which made him dream of some surging sea spreading around
him, and isolating him from the world. Gradually, however, a vague
nervousness began to prey upon him; he became discontented, accused
himself of faults which he could not define, and began to rebel against
the emptiness which he experienced more and more acutely in mind and
body. Then, too, the evil smells of the fish market brought him nausea.
By degrees he became unhinged, his vague boredom developing into
restless, nervous excitement.

All his days were precisely alike, spent among the same sounds and the
same odours. In the mornings the noisy buzzing of the auction sales
resounded in his ears like a distant echo of bells; and sometimes, when
there was a delay in the arrival of the fish, the auctions continued
till very late. Upon these occasions he remained in the pavilion till
noon, disturbed at every moment by quarrels and disputes, which he
endeavoured to settle with scrupulous justice. Hours elapsed before he
could get free of some miserable matter or other which was exciting the
market. He paced up and down amidst the crush and uproar of the sales,
slowly perambulating the alleys and occasionally stopping in front of
the stalls which fringed the Rue Rambuteau, and where lay rosy heaps of
prawns and baskets of boiled lobsters with tails tied backwards, while
live ones were gradually dying as they sprawled over the marble
slabs. And then he would watch gentlemen in silk hats and black gloves
bargaining with the fish-wives, and finally going off with boiled
lobsters wrapped in paper in the pockets of their frock-coats.[*]
Farther away, at the temporary stalls, where the commoner sorts of fish
were sold, he would recognise the bareheaded women of the neighbourhood,
who always came at the same hour to make their purchases.

     [*] The little fish-basket for the use of customers, so
     familiar in London, is not known in Paris.--Translator.

At times he took an interest in some well-dressed lady trailing her lace
petticoats over the damp stones, and escorted by a servant in a white
apron; and he would follow her at a little distance on noticing how the
fish-wives shrugged their shoulders at sight of her air of disgust. The
medley of hampers and baskets and bags, the crowd of skirts flitting
along the damp alleys, occupied his attention until lunchtime. He took a
delight in the dripping water and the fresh breeze as he passed from the
acrid smell of the shell-fish to the pungent odour of the salted fish.
It was always with the latter that he brought his official round of
inspection to a close. The cases of red herrings, the Nantes sardines on
their layers of leaves, and the rolled cod, exposed for sale under
the eyes of stout, faded fish-wives, brought him thoughts of a voyage
necessitating a vast supply of salted provisions.

In the afternoon the markets became quieter, grew drowsy; and Florent
then shut himself up in his office, made out his reports, and enjoyed
the happiest hours of his day. If he happened to go out and cross
the fish market, he found it almost deserted. There was no longer the
crushing and pushing and uproar of ten o’clock in the morning. The
fish-wives, seated behind their stalls, leant back knitting, while a
few belated purchasers prowled about casting sidelong glances at the
remaining fish, with the thoughtful eyes and compressed lips of women
closely calculating the price of their dinner. At last the twilight
fell, there was a noise of boxes being moved, and the fish was laid for
the night on beds of ice; and then, after witnessing the closing of the
gates, Florent went off, seemingly carrying the fish market along with
him in his clothes and his beard and his hair.

For the first few months this penetrating odour caused him no great
discomfort. The winter was a severe one, the frosts converted the alleys
into slippery mirrors, and the fountains and marble slabs were fringed
with a lacework of ice. In the mornings it was necessary to place little
braziers underneath the taps before a drop of water could be drawn. The
frozen fish had twisted tails; and, dull of hue and hard to the touch
like unpolished metal, gave out a ringing sound akin to that of pale
cast-iron when it snaps. Until February the pavilion presented a most
mournful appearance: it was deserted, and wrapped in a bristling shroud
of ice. But with March came a thaw, with mild weather and fogs and rain.
Then the fish became soft again, and unpleasant odours mingled with the
smell of mud wafted from the neighbouring streets. These odours were as
yet vague, tempered by the moisture which clung to the ground. But in
the blazing June afternoons a reeking stench arose, and the atmosphere
became heavy with a pestilential haze. The upper windows were then
opened, and huge blinds of grey canvas were drawn beneath the burning
sky. Nevertheless, a fiery rain seemed to be pouring down, heating the
market as though it were a big stove, and there was not a breath of air
to waft away the noxious emanations from the fish. A visible steam went
up from the stalls.

The masses of food amongst which Florent lived now began to cause him
the greatest discomfort. The disgust with which the pork shop had filled
him came back in a still more intolerable fashion. He almost sickened
as he passed these masses of fish, which, despite all the water lavished
upon them, turned bad under a sudden whiff of hot air. Even when he shut
himself up in his office his discomfort continued, for the abominable
odour forced its way through the chinks in the woodwork of the window
and door. When the sky was grey and leaden, the little room remained
quite dark; and then the day was like a long twilight in the depths of
some fetid march. He was often attacked by fits of nervous excitement,
and felt a craving desire to walk; and he would then descend into the
cellars by the broad staircase opening in the middle of the pavilion. In
the pent-up air down below, in the dim light of the occasional gas jets,
he once more found the refreshing coolness diffused by pure cold water.
He would stand in front of the big tank where the reserve stock of live
fish was kept, and listen to the ceaseless murmur of the four streamlets
of water falling from the four corners of the central urn, and then
spreading into a broad stream and gliding beneath the locked gratings of
the basins with a gentle and continuous flow. This subterranean spring,
this stream murmuring in the gloom, had a tranquillising effect upon
him. Of an evening, too, he delighted in the fine sunsets which threw
the delicate lacework of the market buildings blackly against the red
glow of the heavens. The dancing dust of the last sun rays streamed
through every opening, through every chink of the Venetian shutters,
and the whole was like some luminous transparency on which the slender
shafts of the columns, the elegant curves of the girders, and the
geometrical tracery of the roofs were minutely outlined. Florent
feasted his eyes on this mighty diagram washed in with Indian ink on
phosphorescent vellum, and his mind reverted to his old fancy of a
colossal machine with wheels and levers and beams espied in the crimson
glow of the fires blazing beneath its boilers. At each consecutive hour
of the day the changing play of the light--from the bluish haze of early
morning and the black shadows of noon to the flaring of the sinking sun
and the paling of its fires in the ashy grey of the twilight--revealed
the markets under a new aspect; but on the flaming evenings, when the
foul smells arose and forced their way across the broad yellow beams
like hot puffs of steam, Florent again experienced discomfort, and
his dream changed, and he imagined himself in some gigantic knacker’s
boiling-house where the fat of a whole people was being melted down.

The coarseness of the market people, whose words and gestures seemed to
be infected with the evil smell of the place, also made him suffer. He
was very tolerant, and showed no mock modesty; still, these impudent
women often embarrassed him. Madame Francois, whom he had again met,
was the only one with whom he felt at ease. She showed such pleasure
on learning he had found a berth and was quite comfortable and out of
worry, as she put it, that he was quite touched. The laughter of Lisa,
the handsome Norman, and the others disquieted him; but of Madame
Francois he would willingly have made a confidante. She never laughed
mockingly at him; when she did laugh, it was like a woman rejoicing at
another’s happiness. She was a brave, plucky creature, too; hers was a
hard business in winter, during the frosts, and the rainy weather was
still more trying. On some mornings Florent saw her arrive in a pouring
deluge which had been slowly, coldly falling ever since the previous
night. Between Nanterre and Paris the wheels of her cart had sunk up to
the axles in mud, and Balthazar was caked with mire to his belly. His
mistress would pity him and sympathise with him as she wiped him down
with some old aprons.

“The poor creatures are very sensitive,” said she; “a mere nothing gives
them a cold. Ah, my poor old Balthazar! I really thought that we had
tumbled into the Seine as we crossed the Neuilly bridge, the rain came
down in such a deluge!”

While Balthazar was housed in the inn stable his mistress remained in
the pouring rain to sell her vegetables. The footway was transformed
into a lake of liquid mud. The cabbages, carrots, and turnips were
pelted by the grey water, quite drowned by the muddy torrent that rushed
along the pavement. There was no longer any of that glorious greenery
so apparent on bright mornings. The market gardeners, cowering in their
heavy cloaks beneath the downpour, swore at the municipality which,
after due inquiry, had declared that rain was in no way injurious to
vegetables, and that there was accordingly no necessity to erect any

Those rainy mornings greatly worried Florent, who thought about Madame
Francois. He always managed to slip away and get a word with her. But
he never found her at all low-spirited. She shook herself like a poodle,
saying that she was quite used to such weather, and was not made of
sugar, to melt away beneath a few drops of rain. However, he made her
seek refuge for a few minutes in one of the covered ways, and frequently
even took her to Monsieur Lebigre’s, where they had some hot wine
together. While she with her peaceful face beamed on him in all
friendliness, he felt quite delighted with the healthy odour of the
fields which she brought into the midst of the foul market atmosphere.
She exhaled a scent of earth, hay, fresh air, and open skies.

“You must come to Nanterre, my lad,” she said to him, “and look at my
kitchen garden. I have put borders of thyme everywhere. How bad your
villainous Paris does smell!”

Then she went off, dripping. Florent, on his side, felt quite
re-invigorated when he parted from her. He tried, too the effect of work
upon the nervous depression from which he suffered. He was a man of a
very methodical temperament, and sometimes carried out his plans for the
allotment of his time with a strictness that bordered on mania. He shut
himself up two evenings a week in order to write an exhaustive work on
Cayenne. His modest bedroom was excellently adapted, he thought, to
calm his mind and incline him to work. He lighted his fire, saw that
the pomegranate at the foot of the bed was looking all right, and then
seated himself at the little table, and remained working till midnight.
He had pushed the missal and Dream-book back in the drawer, which was
now filling with notes, memoranda, manuscripts of all kinds. The work
on Cayenne made but slow progress, however, as it was constantly being
interrupted by other projects, plans for enormous undertakings which
he sketched out in a few words. He successively drafted an outline of
a complete reform of the administrative system of the markets, a scheme
for transforming the city dues, levied on produce as it entered Paris,
into taxes levied upon the sales, a new system of victualling the poorer
neighbourhoods, and, lastly, a somewhat vague socialist enactment for
the storing in common warehouses of all the provisions brought to the
markets, and the ensuring of a minimum daily supply to each household in
Paris. As he sat there, with his head bent over his table, and his mind
absorbed in thoughts of all these weighty matters, his gloomy figure
cast a great black shadow on the soft peacefulness of the garret.
Sometimes a chaffinch which he had picked up one snowy day in the market
would mistake the lamplight for the day, and break the silence, which
only the scratching of Florent’s pen on his paper disturbed, by a cry.

Florent was fated to revert to politics. He had suffered too much
through them not to make them the dearest occupation of his life. Under
other conditions he might have become a good provincial schoolmaster,
happy in the peaceful life of some little town. But he had been treated
as though he were a wolf, and felt as though he had been marked out
by exile for some great combative task. His nervous discomfort was the
outcome of his long reveries at Cayenne, the brooding bitterness he had
felt at his unmerited sufferings, and the vows he had secretly sworn to
avenge humanity and justice--the former scourged with a whip, and the
latter trodden under foot. Those colossal markets and their teeming
odoriferous masses of food had hastened the crisis. To Florent they
appeared symbolical of some glutted, digesting beast, of Paris,
wallowing in its fat and silently upholding the Empire. He seemed to be
encircled by swelling forms and sleek, fat faces, which ever and
ever protested against his own martyrlike scragginess and sallow,
discontented visage. To him the markets were like the stomach of the
shopkeeping classes, the stomach of all the folks of average rectitude
puffing itself out, rejoicing, glistening in the sunshine, and declaring
that everything was for the best, since peaceable people had never
before grown so beautifully fat. As these thoughts passed through his
mind Florent clenched his fists, and felt ready for a struggle, more
irritated now by the thought of his exile than he had been when he first
returned to France. Hatred resumed entire possession of him. He often
let his pen drop and became absorbed in dreams. The dying fire cast a
bright glow upon his face; the lamp burned smokily, and the chaffinch
fell asleep again on one leg, with its head tucked under its wing.

Sometimes Auguste, on coming upstairs at eleven o’clock and seeing the
light shining under the door, would knock, before going to bed. Florent
admitted him with some impatience. The assistant sat down in front of
the fire, speaking but little, and never saying why he had come. His
eyes would all the time remain fixed upon the photograph of himself and
Augustine in their Sunday finery. Florent came to the conclusion that
the young man took a pleasure in visiting the room for the simple reason
that it had been occupied by his sweetheart; and one evening he asked
him with a smile if he had guessed rightly.

“Well, perhaps it is so,” replied Auguste, very much surprised at the
discovery which he himself now made of the reasons which actuated him.
“I’d really never thought of that before. I came to see you without
knowing why. But if I were to tell Augustine, how she’d laugh!”

Whenever he showed himself at all loquacious, his one eternal theme was
the pork shop which he was going to set up with Augustine at Plaisance.
He seemed so perfectly assured of arranging his life in accordance
with his desires, that Florent grew to feel a sort of respect for him,
mingled with irritation. After all, the young fellow was very resolute
and energetic, in spite of his seeming stupidity. He made straight
for the goal he had in view, and would doubtless reach it in perfect
assurance and happiness. On the evenings of these visits from the
apprentice, Florent could not settle down to work again; he went off to
bed in a discontented mood, and did not recover his equilibrium till
the thought passed through his mind, “Why, that Auguste is a perfect

Every month he went to Clamart to see Monsieur Verlaque. These visits
were almost a delight to him. The poor man still lingered on, to the
great astonishment of Gavard, who had not expected him to last for more
than six months. Every time that Florent went to see him Verlaque would
declare that he was feeling better, and was most anxious to resume his
work again. But the days glided by, and he had serious relapses. Florent
would sit by his bedside, chat about the fish market, and do what he
could to enliven him. He deposited on the pedestal table the fifty
francs which he surrendered to him each month; and the old inspector,
though the payment had been agreed upon, invariably protested, and
seemed disinclined to take the money. Then they would begin to speak of
something else, and the coins remained lying on the table. When Florent
went away, Madame Verlaque always accompanied him to the street door.
She was a gentle little woman, of a very tearful disposition. Her one
topic of conversation was the expense necessitated by her husband’s
illness, the costliness of chicken broth, butcher’s meat, Bordeaux
wine, medicine, and doctors’ fees. Her doleful conversation greatly
embarrassed Florent, and on the first few occasions he did not
understand the drift of it. But at last, as the poor woman seemed always
in a state of tears, and kept saying how happy and comfortable they had
been when they had enjoyed the full salary of eighteen hundred francs
a year, he timidly offered to make her a private allowance, to be
kept secret from her husband. This offer, however, she declined,
inconsistently declaring that the fifty francs were sufficient. But in
the course of the month she frequently wrote to Florent, calling
him their saviour. Her handwriting was small and fine, yet she would
contrive to fill three pages of letter paper with humble, flowing
sentences entreating the loan of ten francs; and this she at last did so
regularly that wellnigh the whole of Florent’s hundred and fifty francs
found its way to the Verlaques. The husband was probably unaware of
it; however, the wife gratefully kissed Florent’s hands. This charity
afforded him the greatest pleasure, and he concealed it as though it
were some forbidden selfish indulgence.

“That rascal Verlaque is making a fool of you,” Gavard would sometimes
say. “He’s coddling himself up finely now that you are doing the work
and paying him an income.”

At last one day Florent replied:

“Oh, we’ve arranged matters together. I’m only to give him twenty-five
francs a month in future.”

As a matter of fact, Florent had but little need of money. The Quenus
continued to provide him with board and lodging; and the few francs
which he kept by him sufficed to pay for the refreshment he took in the
evening at Monsieur Lebigre’s. His life had gradually assumed all the
regularity of clockwork. He worked in his bedroom, continued to teach
little Muche twice a week from eight to nine o’clock, devoted an evening
to Lisa, to avoid offending her, and spent the rest of his spare time in
the little “cabinet” with Gavard and his friends.

When he went to the Mehudins’ there was a touch of tutorial stiffness
in his gentle demeanour. He was pleased with the old house in the
Rue Pirouette. On the ground floor he passed through the faint odours
pervading the premises of the purveyor of cooked vegetables. Big pans of
boiled spinach and sorrel stood cooling in the little backyard. Then he
ascended the winding staircase, greasy and dark, with worn and bulging
steps which sloped in a disquieting manner. The Mehudins occupied the
whole of the second floor. Even when they had attained to comfortable
circumstances the old mother had always declined to move into fresh
quarters, despite all the supplications of her daughters, who dreamt of
living in a new house in a fine broad street. But on this point the old
woman was not to be moved; she had lived there, she said, and meant to
die there. She contented herself, moreover, with a dark little closet,
leaving the largest rooms to Claire and La Normande. The later, with
the authority of the elder born, had taken possession of the room that
overlooked the street; it was the best and largest of the suite. Claire
was so much annoyed at her sister’s action in the matter that she
refused to occupy the adjoining room, whose window overlooked the yard,
and obstinately insisted on sleeping on the other side of the landing,
in a sort of garret, which she did not even have whitewashed. However,
she had her own key, and so was independent; directly anything happened
to displease her she locked herself up in her own quarters.

As a rule, when Florent arrived the Mehudins were just finishing
their dinner. Muche sprang to his neck, and for a moment the young man
remained seated with the lad chattering between his legs. Then, when
the oilcloth cover had been wiped, the lesson began on a corner of
the table. The beautiful Norman gave Florent a cordial welcome. She
generally began to knit or mend some linen, and would draw her chair up
to the table and work by the light of the same lamp as the others; and
she frequently put down her needle to listen to the lesson, which filled
her with surprise. She soon began to feel warm esteem for this man who
seemed so clever, who, in speaking to the little one, showed himself as
gentle as a woman, and manifested angelic patience in again and again
repeating the same instructions. She no longer considered him at all
plain, but even felt somewhat jealous of beautiful Lisa. And then she
drew her chair still nearer, and gazed at Florent with an embarrassing

“But you are jogging my elbow, mother, and I can’t write,” Muche
exclaimed angrily. “There! see what a blot you’ve made me make! Get
further away, do!”

La Normande now gradually began to say a good many unpleasant things
about beautiful Lisa. She pretended that the latter concealed her real
age, that she laced her stays so tightly that she nearly suffocated
herself, and that if she came down of a morning looking so trim and
neat, without a single hair out of place, it must be because she looked
perfectly hideous when in dishabille. Then La Normande would raise her
arm a little, and say that there was no need for her to wear any stays
to cramp and deform her figure. At these times the lessons would be
interrupted, and Muche gazed with interest at his mother as she raised
her arms. Florent listened to her, and even laughed, thinking to himself
that women were very odd creatures. The rivalry between the beautiful
Norman and beautiful Lisa amused him.

Muche, however, managed to finish his page of writing. Florent, who was
a good penman, set him copies in large hand and round hand on slips of
paper. The words he chose were very long and took up the whole line, and
he evinced a marked partiality for such expressions as “tyrannically,”
 “liberticide,” “unconstitutional,” and “revolutionary.” At times also
he made the boy copy such sentences as these: “The day of justice will
surely come”; “The suffering of the just man is the condemnation of the
oppressor”; “When the hour strikes, the guilty shall fall.” In preparing
these copy slips he was, indeed, influenced by the ideas which haunted
his brain; he would for the time become quite oblivious of Muche, the
beautiful Norman, and all his surroundings. The lad would have copied
Rousseau’s “Contrat Social” had he been told to do so; and thus,
drawing each letter in turn, he filled page after page with lines of
“tyrannically” and “unconstitutional.”

As long as the tutor remained there, old Madame Mehudin kept fidgeting
round the table, muttering to herself. She still harboured terrible
rancour against Florent; and asserted that it was folly to make the lad
work in that way at a time when children should be in bed. She would
certainly have turned that “spindle-shanks” out of the house, if the
beautiful Norman, after a stormy scene, had not bluntly told her that
she would go to live elsewhere if she were not allowed to receive whom
she chose. However, the pair began quarrelling again on the subject
every evening.

“You may say what you like,” exclaimed the old woman; “but he’s got
treacherous eyes. And, besides, I’m always suspicious of those skinny
people. A skinny man’s capable of anything. I’ve never come across a
decent one yet. That one’s as flat as a board. And he’s got such an ugly
face, too! Though I’m sixty-five and more, I’d precious soon send him
about his business if he came a-courting of me!”

She said this because she had a shrewd idea of how matters were likely
to turn out. And then she went on to speak in laudatory terms of
Monsieur Lebigre, who, indeed, paid the greatest attention to the
beautiful Norman. Apart from the handsome dowry which he imagined she
would bring with her, he considered that she would be a magnificent
acquisition to his counter. The old woman never missed an opportunity to
sound his praises; there was no lankiness, at any rate, about him, said
she; he was stout and strong, with a pair of calves which would have
done honour even to one of the Emperor’s footmen.

However, La Normande shrugged her shoulders and snappishly replied:
“What do I care whether he’s stout or not? I don’t want him or anybody.
And besides, I shall do as I please.”

Then, if the old woman became too pointed in her remarks, the other
added: “It’s no business of yours, and besides, it isn’t true. Hold
your tongue and don’t worry me.” And thereupon she would go off into
her room, banging the door behind her. Florent, however, had a yet
more bitter enemy than Madame Mehudin in the house. As soon as ever he
arrived there, Claire would get up without a word, take a candle, and go
off to her own room on the other side of the landing; and she could be
heard locking her door in a burst of sullen anger. One evening when
her sister asked the tutor to dinner, she prepared her own food on
the landing, and ate it in her bedroom; and now and again she secluded
herself so closely that nothing was seen of her for a week at a time.
She usually retained her appearance of soft lissomness, but periodically
had a fit of iron rigidity, when her eyes blazed from under her pale
tawny locks like those of a distrustful wild animal. Old Mother Mehudin,
fancying that she might relieve herself in her company, only made her
furious by speaking to her of Florent; and thereupon the old woman, in
her exasperation, told everyone that she would have gone off and left
her daughters to themselves had she not been afraid of their devouring
each other if they remained alone together.

As Florent went away one evening, he passed in front of Claire’s door,
which was standing wide open. He saw the girl look at him, and turn very
red. Her hostile demeanour annoyed him; and it was only the timidity
which he felt in the presence of women that restrained him from seeking
an explanation of her conduct. On this particular evening he would
certainly have addressed her if he had not detected Mademoiselle Saget’s
pale face peering over the balustrade of the upper landing. So he went
his way, but had not taken a dozen steps before Claire’s door was closed
behind him with such violence as to shake the whole staircase. It was
after this that Mademoiselle Saget, eager to propagate slander, went
about repeating everywhere that Madame Quenu’s cousin was “carrying on”
 most dreadfully with both the Mehudin girls.

Florent, however, gave very little thought to these two handsome young
women. His usual manner towards them was that of a man who has but
little success with the sex. Certainly he had come to entertain a
feeling of genuine friendship for La Normande, who really displayed a
very good heart when her impetuous temper did not run away with her. But
he never went any further than this. Moreover, the queenly proportions
of her robust figure filled him with a kind of alarm; and of an evening,
whenever she drew her chair up to the lamp and bent forward as though
to look at Muche’s copy-book, he drew in his own sharp bony elbows and
shrunken shoulders as if realising what a pitiful specimen of humanity
he was by the side of that buxom, hardy creature so full of the life of
ripe womanhood. Moreover, there was another reason why he recoiled from
her. The smells of the markets distressed him; on finishing his duties
of an evening he would have liked to escape from the fishy odour amidst
which his days were spent; but, alas! beautiful though La Normande was,
this odour seemed to adhere to her silky skin. She had tried every
sort of aromatic oil, and bathed freely; but as soon as the freshening
influence of the bath was over her blood again impregnated her skin with
the faint odour of salmon, the musky perfume of smelts, and the pungent
scent of herrings and skate. Her skirts, too, as she moved about,
exhaled these fishy smells, and she walked as though amidst an
atmosphere redolent of slimy seaweed. With her tall, goddess-like
figure, her purity of form, and transparency of complexion she resembled
some lovely antique marble that had rolled about in the depths of the
sea and had been brought to land in some fisherman’s net.

Mademoiselle Saget, however, swore by all her gods that Florent was the
young woman’s lover. According to her account, indeed, he courted
both the sisters. She had quarrelled with the beautiful Norman about
a ten-sou dab; and ever since this falling-out she had manifested warm
friendship for handsome Lisa. By this means she hoped the sooner to
arrive at a solution of what she called the Quenus’ mystery. Florent
still continued to elude her curiosity, and she told her friends that
she felt like a body without a soul, though she was careful not to
reveal what was troubling her so grievously. A young girl infatuated
with a hopeless passion could not have been in more distress than this
terrible old woman at finding herself unable to solve the mystery of the
Quenus’ cousin. She was constantly playing the spy on Florent, following
him about, and watching him, in a burning rage at her failure to satisfy
her rampant curiosity. Now that he had begun to visit the Mehudins she
was for ever haunting the stairs and landings. She soon discovered that
handsome Lisa was much annoyed at Florent visiting “those women,” and
accordingly she called at the pork shop every morning with a budget of
information. She went in shrivelled and shrunk by the frosty air, and,
resting her hands on the heating-pan to warm them, remained in front of
the counter buying nothing, but repeating in her shrill voice: “He
was with them again yesterday; he seems to live there now. I heard La
Normande call him ‘my dear’ on the staircase.”

She indulged like this in all sorts of lies in order to remain in the
shop and continue warming her hands for a little longer. On the morning
after the evening when she had heard Claire close her door behind
Florent, she spun out her story for a good half hour, inventing all
sorts of mendacious and abominable particulars.

Lisa, who had assumed a look of contemptuous scorn, said but little,
simply encouraging Mademoiselle Saget’s gossip by her silence. At last,
however, she interrupted her. “No, no,” she said; “I can’t really listen
to all that. Is it possible that there can be such women?”

Thereupon Mademoiselle Saget told Lisa that unfortunately all women were
not so well conducted as herself. And then she pretended to find all
sorts of excuses for Florent: it wasn’t his fault; he was no doubt a
bachelor; these women had very likely inveigled him in their snares.
In this way she hinted questions without openly asking them. But Lisa
preserved silence with respect to her cousin, merely shrugging her
shoulders and compressing her lips. When Mademoiselle Saget at last went
away, the mistress of the shop glanced with disgust at the cover of the
heating-pan, the glistening metal of which had been tarnished by the
impression of the old woman’s little hands.

“Augustine,” she cried, “bring a duster, and wipe the cover of the
heating-pan. It’s quite filthy!”

The rivalry between the beautiful Lisa and the beautiful Norman now
became formidable. The beautiful Norman flattered herself that she had
carried a lover off from her enemy; and the beautiful Lisa was indignant
with the hussy who, by luring the sly cousin to her home, would surely
end by compromising them all. The natural temperament of each woman
manifested itself in the hostilities which ensued. The one remained
calm and scornful, like a lady who holds up her skirts to keep them from
being soiled by the mud; while the other, much less subject to shame,
displayed insolent gaiety and swaggered along the footways with the airs
of a duellist seeking a cause of quarrel. Each of their skirmishes would
be the talk of the fish market for the whole day. When the beautiful
Norman saw the beautiful Lisa standing at the door of her shop, she
would go out of her way in order to pass her, and brush against her with
her apron; and then the angry glances of the two rivals crossed like
rapiers, with the rapid flash and thrust of pointed steel. When the
beautiful Lisa, on the other hand, went to the fish market, she assumed
an expression of disgust on approaching the beautiful Norman’s stall.
And then she proceeded to purchase some big fish--a turbot or a
salmon--of a neighbouring dealer, spreading her money out on the marble
slab as she did so, for she had noticed that this seemed to have a
painful effect upon the “hussy,” who ceased laughing at the sight. To
hear the two rivals speak, anyone would have supposed that the fish
and pork they sold were quite unfit for food. However, their principal
engagements took place when the beautiful Norman was seated at her stall
and the beautiful Lisa at her counter, and they glowered blackly at each
other across the Rue Rambuteau. They sat in state in their big white
aprons, decked out with showy toilets and jewels, and the battle between
them would commence early in the morning.

“Hallo, the fat woman’s got up!” the beautiful Norman would exclaim.
“She ties herself up as tightly as her sausages! Ah, she’s got
Saturday’s collar on again, and she’s still wearing that poplin dress!”

At the same moment, on the opposite side of the street, beautiful Lisa
was saying to her shop girl: “Just look at that creature staring at us
over yonder, Augustine! She’s getting quite deformed by the life she
leads. Do you see her earrings? She’s wearing those big drops of hers,
isn’t she? It makes one feel ashamed to see a girl like that with

All complaisance, Augustine echoed her mistress’s words.

When either of them was able to display a new ornament it was like
scoring a victory--the other one almost choked with spleen. Every day
they would scrutinise and count each other’s customers, and manifest the
greatest annoyance if they thought that the “big thing over the way” was
doing the better business. Then they spied out what each had for lunch.
Each knew what the other ate, and even watched to see how she digested
it. In the afternoon, while the one sat amidst her cooked meats and the
other amidst her fish, they posed and gave themselves airs, as though
they were queens of beauty. It was then that the victory of the day was
decided. The beautiful Norman embroidered, selecting the most delicate
and difficult work, and this aroused Lisa’s exasperation.

“Ah!” she said, speaking of her rival, “she had far better mend her
boy’s stockings. He’s running about quite barefooted. Just look at that
fine lady, with her red hands stinking of fish!”

For her part, Lisa usually knitted.

“She’s still at that same sock,” La Normande would say, as she watched
her. “She eats so much that she goes to sleep over her work. I pity her
poor husband if he’s waiting for those socks to keep his feet warm!”

They would sit glowering at each other with this implacable hostility
until evening, taking note of every customer, and displaying such keen
eyesight that they detected the smallest details of each other’s dress
and person when other women declared that they could see nothing at
such a distance. Mademoiselle Saget expressed the highest admiration for
Madame Quenu’s wonderful sight when she one day detected a scratch on
the fish-girl’s left cheek. With eyes like those, said the old maid,
one might even see through a door. However, the victory often remained
undecided when night fell; sometimes one or other of the rivals was
temporarily crushed, but she took her revenge on the morrow. Several
people of the neighbourhood actually laid wagers on these contests, some
backing the beautiful Lisa and others the beautiful Norman.

At last they ended by forbidding their children to speak to one another.
Pauline and Muche had formerly been good friends, notwithstanding the
girl’s stiff petticoats and lady-like demeanour, and the lad’s tattered
appearance, coarse language, and rough manners. They had at times played
together at horses on the broad footway in front of the fish market,
Pauline always being the horse and Muche the driver. One day, however,
when the boy came in all simplicity to seek his playmate, Lisa turned
him out of the house, declaring that he was a dirty little street arab.

“One can’t tell what may happen with children who have been so
shockingly brought up,” she observed.

“Yes, indeed; you are quite right,” replied Mademoiselle Saget, who
happened to be present.

When Muche, who was barely seven years old, came in tears to his mother
to tell her of what had happened, La Normande broke out into a terrible
passion. At the first moment she felt a strong inclination to rush
over to the Quenu-Gradelles’ and smash everything in their shop. But
eventually she contented herself with giving Muche a whipping.

“If ever I catch you going there again,” she cried, boiling over with
anger, “you’ll get it hot from me, I can tell you!”

Florent, however, was the real victim of the two women. It was he, in
truth, who had set them by the ears, and it was on his account that
they were fighting each other. Ever since he had appeared upon the scene
things had been going from bad to worse. He compromised and disturbed
and embittered all these people, who had previously lived in such sleek
peace and harmony. The beautiful Norman felt inclined to claw him when
he lingered too long with the Quenus, and it was chiefly from an impulse
of hostile rivalry that she desired to win him to herself. The beautiful
Lisa, on her side, maintained a cold judicial bearing, and although
extremely annoyed, forced herself to silence whenever she saw Florent
leaving the pork shop to go to the Rue Pirouette.

Still, there was now much less cordiality than formerly round the
Quenus’ dinner-table in the evening. The clean, prim dining-room seemed
to have assumed an aspect of chilling severity. Florent divined a
reproach, a sort of condemnation in the bright oak, the polished lamp,
and the new matting. He scarcely dared to eat for fear of letting crumbs
fall on the floor or soiling his plate. There was a guileless simplicity
about him which prevented him from seeing how the land really lay.
He still praised Lisa’s affectionate kindliness on all sides; and
outwardly, indeed, she did continue to treat him with all gentleness.

“It is very strange,” she said to him one day with a smile, as though
she were joking; “although you don’t eat at all badly now, you don’t get
fatter. Your food doesn’t seem to do you any good.”

At this Quenu laughed aloud, and tapping his brother’s stomach,
protested that the whole contents of the pork shop might pass through it
without depositing a layer of fat as thick as a two-sou piece. However,
Lisa’s insistence on this particular subject was instinct with that same
suspicious dislike for fleshless men which Madame Mehudin manifested
more outspokenly; and behind it all there was likewise a veiled allusion
to the disorderly life which she imagined Florent was leading. She
never, however, spoke a word to him about La Normande. Quenu had
attempted a joke on the subject one evening, but Lisa had received it so
icily that the good man had not ventured to refer to the matter again.
They would remain seated at table for a few moments after dessert, and
Florent, who had noticed his sister-in-law’s vexation if ever he went
off too soon, tried to find something to talk about. On these occasions
Lisa would be near him, and certainly he did not suffer in her presence
from that fishy smell which assailed him when he was in the company of
La Normande. The mistress of the pork shop, on the contrary, exhaled an
odour of fat and rich meats. Moreover, not a thrill of life stirred her
tight-fitting bodice; she was all massiveness and all sedateness.
Gavard once said to Florent in confidence that Madame Quenu was no doubt
handsome, but that for his part he did not admire such armour-plated

Lisa avoided talking to Quenu of Florent. She habitually prided herself
on her patience, and considered, too, that it would not be proper to
cause any unpleasantness between the brothers, unless some peremptory
reason for her interference should arise. As she said, she could put up
with a good deal, but, of course, she must not be tried too far. She had
now reached the period of courteous tolerance, wearing an expressionless
face, affecting perfect indifference and strict politeness, and
carefully avoiding everything which might seem to hint that Florent was
boarding and lodging with them without their receiving the slightest
payment from him. Not, indeed, that she would have accepted any payment
from him, she was above all that; still he might, at any rate, she
thought, have lunched away from the house.

“We never seem to be alone now,” she remarked to Quenu one day. “If
there is anything we want to say to one another we have to wait till we
go upstairs at night.”

And then, one night when they were in bed, she said to him: “Your
brother earns a hundred and fifty francs a month, doesn’t he? Well, it’s
strange he can’t put a trifle by to buy himself some more linen. I’ve
been obliged to give him three more of your old shirts.”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” Quenu replied. “Florent’s not hard to please;
and we must let him keep his money for himself.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Lisa, without pressing the matter further. “I
didn’t mention it for that reason. Whether he spends his money well or
ill, it isn’t our business.”

In her own mind she felt quite sure that he wasted his salary at the

Only on one occasion did she break through her habitual calmness of
demeanour, the quiet reserve which was the result of both natural
temperament and preconceived design. The beautiful Norman had made
Florent a present of a magnificent salmon. Feeling very much embarrassed
with the fish, and not daring to refuse it, he brought it to Lisa.

“You can make a pasty of it,” he said ingenuously.

Lisa looked at him sternly with whitening lips. Then, striving to
restrain her anger, she exclaimed: “Do you think that we are short of
food? Thank God, we’ve got quite enough to eat here! Take it back!”

“Well, at any rate, cook it for me,” replied Florent, amazed by her
anger; “I’ll eat it myself.”

At this she burst out furiously.

“The house isn’t an inn! Tell those who gave you the fish to cook it for
you! I won’t have my pans tainted and infected! Take it back again! Do
you hear?”

If he had not gone away with it, she would certainly have seized it and
hurled it into the street. Florent took it to Monsieur Lebigre’s, where
Rose was ordered to make a pasty of it; and one evening the pasty was
eaten in the little “cabinet,” Gavard, who was present, “standing”
 some oysters for the occasion. Florent now gradually came more and more
frequently to Monsieur Lebigre’s, till at last he was constantly to be
met in the little private room. He there found an atmosphere of heated
excitement in which his political feverishness could pulsate freely.
At times, now, when he shut himself up in his garret to work, the quiet
simplicity of the little room irritated him, his theoretical search
for liberty proved quite insufficient, and it became necessary that he
should go downstairs, sally out, and seek satisfaction in the trenchant
axioms of Charvet and the wild outbursts of Logre. During the first few
evenings the clamour and chatter had made him feel ill at ease; he was
then quite conscious of their utter emptiness, but he felt a need of
drowning his thoughts, of goading himself on to some extreme resolution
which might calm his mental disquietude. The atmosphere of the little
room, reeking with the odour of spirits and warm with tobacco smoke,
intoxicated him and filled him with peculiar beatitude, prompting a kind
of self-surrender which made him willing to acquiesce in the wildest
ideas. He grew attached to those he met there, and looked for them
and awaited their coming with a pleasure which increased with habit.
Robine’s mild, bearded countenance, Clemence’s serious profile,
Charvet’s fleshless pallor, Logre’s hump, Gavard, Alexandre, and
Lacaille, all entered into his life, and assumed a larger and larger
place in it. He took quite a sensual enjoyment in these meetings.
When his fingers closed round the brass knob on the door of the little
cabinet it seemed to be animated with life, to warm him, and turn of its
own accord. Had he grasped the supple wrist of a woman he could not have
felt a more thrilling emotion.

To tell the truth, very serious things took place in that little room.
One evening, Logre, after indulging in wilder outbursts than usual,
banged his fist upon the table, declaring that if they were men they
would make a clean sweep of the Government. And he added that it was
necessary they should come to an understanding without further delay, if
they desired to be fully prepared when the time for action arrived. Then
they all bent their heads together, discussed the matter in lower tones,
and decided to form a little “group,” which should be ready for whatever
might happen. From that day forward Gavard flattered himself that he
was a member of a secret society, and was engaged in a conspiracy. The
little circle received no new members, but Logre promised to put it into
communication with other associations with which he was acquainted; and
then, as soon as they held all Paris in their grasp, they would rise
and make the Tuileries’ people dance. A series of endless discussions,
renewed during several months, then began--discussions on questions of
organisation, on questions of ways and means, on questions of strategy,
and of the form of the future Government. As soon as Rose had brought
Clemence’s grog, Charvet’s and Robine’s beer, the coffee for Logre,
Gavard, and Florent, and the liqueur glasses of brandy for Lacaille
and Alexandre, the door of the cabinet was carefully fastened, and the
debate began.

Charvet and Florent were naturally those whose utterances were listened
to with the greatest attention. Gavard had not been able to keep his
tongue from wagging, but had gradually related the whole story of
Cayenne; and Florent found himself surrounded by a halo of martyrdom.
His words were received as though they were the expression of
indisputable dogmas. One evening, however, the poultry dealer, vexed
at hearing his friend, who happened to be absent, attacked, exclaimed:
“Don’t say anything against Florent; he’s been to Cayenne!”

Charvet was rather annoyed by the advantage which this circumstance
gave to Florent. “Cayenne, Cayenne,” he muttered between his teeth. “Ah,
well, they were not so badly off there, after all.”

Then he attempted to prove that exile was a mere nothing, and that real
suffering consisted in remaining in one’s oppressed country, gagged in
presence of triumphant despotism. And besides, he urged, it wasn’t his
fault that he hadn’t been arrested on the Second of December. Next,
however, he hinted that those who had allowed themselves to be captured
were imbeciles. His secret jealousy made him a systematic opponent of
Florent; and the general discussions always ended in a duel between
these two, who, while their companions listened in silence, would speak
against one another for hours at a time, without either of them allowing
that he was beaten.

One of the favourite subjects of discussion was that of the
reorganisation of the country which would have to be effected on the
morrow of their victory.

“We are the conquerors, are we not?” began Gavard.

And, triumph being taken for granted, everyone offered his opinion.
There were two rival parties. Charvet, who was a disciple of Hebert, was
supported by Logre and Robine; while Florent, who was always absorbed
in humanitarian dreams, and called himself a Socialist, was backed by
Alexandre and Lacaille. As for Gavard, he felt no repugnance for violent
action; but, as he was often twitted about his fortune with no end of
sarcastic witticisms which annoyed him, he declared himself a Communist.

“We must make a clean sweep of everything,” Charvet would curtly say, as
though he were delivering a blow with a cleaver. “The trunk is rotten,
and it must come down.”

“Yes! yes!” cried Logre, standing up that he might look taller,
and making the partition shake with the excited motion of his hump.
“Everything will be levelled to the ground; take my word for it. After
that we shall see what to do.”

Robine signified approval by wagging his beard. His silence seemed
instinct with delight whenever violent revolutionary propositions were
made. His eyes assumed a soft ecstatic expression at the mention of the
guillotine. He half closed them, as though he could see the machine, and
was filled with pleasant emotion at the sight; and next he would gently
rub his chin against the knob of his stick, with a subdued purr of

“All the same,” said Florent, in whose voice a vague touch of sadness
lingered, “if you cut down the tree it will be necessary to preserve
some seed. For my part, I think that the tree ought to be preserved, so
that we may graft new life on it. The political revolution, you know,
has already taken place; to-day we have got to think of the labourer,
the working man. Our movement must be altogether a social one. I defy
you to reject the claims of the people. They are weary of waiting, and
are determined to have their share of happiness.”

These words aroused Alexandre’s enthusiasm. With a beaming, radiant face
he declared that this was true, that the people were weary of waiting.

“And we will have our share,” added Lacaille, with a more menacing
expression. “All the revolutions that have taken place have been for
the good of the middle classes. We’ve had quite enough of that sort of
thing, and the next one shall be for our benefit.”

From this moment disagreement set in. Gavard offered to make a division
of his property, but Logre declined, asserting that he cared nothing for
money. Then Charvet gradually overcame the tumult, till at last he alone
was heard speaking.

“The selfishness of the different classes does more than anything else
to uphold tyranny,” said he. “It is wrong of the people to display
egotism. If they assist us they shall have their share. But why should
I fight for the working man if the working man won’t fight for
me? Moreover, that is not the question at present. Ten years of
revolutionary dictatorship will be necessary to accustom a nation like
France to the fitting enjoyment of liberty.”

“All the more so as the working man is not ripe for it, and requires to
be directed,” said Clemence bluntly.

She but seldom spoke. This tall, serious looking girl, alone among
so many men, listened to all the political chatter with a learnedly
critical air. She leaned back against the partition, and every now and
then sipped her grog whilst gazing at the speakers with frowning
brows or inflated nostrils, thus silently signifying her approval or
disapproval, and making it quite clear that she held decided opinions
upon the most complicated matters. At times she would roll a cigarette,
and puff slender whiffs of smoke from the corners of her mouth, whilst
lending increased attention to what was being debated. It was as though
she were presiding over the discussion, and would award the prize to
the victor when it was finished. She certainly considered that it became
her, as a woman, to display some reserve in her opinions, and to remain
calm whilst the men grew more and more excited. Now and then, however,
in the heat of the debate, she would let a word or a phrase escape her
and “clench the matter” even for Charvet himself, as Gavard said. In her
heart she believed herself the superior of all these fellows. The only
one of them for whom she felt any respect was Robine, and she would
thoughtfully contemplate his silent bearing.

Neither Florent nor any of the others paid any special attention to
Clemence. They treated her just as though she were a man, shaking hands
with her so roughly as almost to dislocate her arms. One evening Florent
witnessed the periodical settlement of accounts between her and Charvet.
She had just received her pay, and Charvet wanted to borrow ten francs
from her; but she first of all insisted that they must reckon up
how matters stood between them. They lived together in a voluntary
partnership, each having complete control of his or her earnings, and
strictly paying his or her expenses. By so doing, said they, they were
under no obligations to one another, but retained entire freedom. Rent,
food, washing, and amusements, were all noted down and added up. That
evening, when the accounts had been verified, Clemence proved to Charvet
that he already owed her five francs. Then she handed him the other ten
which he wished to borrow, and exclaimed: “Recollect that you now owe me
fifteen. I shall expect you to repay me on the fifth, when you get paid
for teaching little Lehudier.”

When Rose was summoned to receive payment for the “drinks,” each
produced the few coppers required to discharge his or her liability.
Charvet laughingly called Clemence an aristocrat because she drank grog.
She wanted to humiliate him, said he, and make him feel that he earned
less than she did, which, as it happened, was the fact. Beneath his
laugh, however, there was a feeling of bitterness that the girl should
be better circumstanced than himself, for, in spite of his theory of the
equality of the sexes, this lowered him.

Although the discussions in the little room had virtually no result,
they served to exercise the speakers’ lungs. A tremendous hubbub
proceeded from the sanctum, and the panes of frosted glass vibrated
like drum-skins. Sometimes the uproar became so great that Rose, while
languidly serving some blouse-wearing customer in the shop, would turn
her head uneasily.

“Why, they’re surely fighting together in there,” the customer would
say, as he put his glass down on the zinc-covered counter, and wiped his
mouth with the back of his hand.

“Oh, there’s no fear of that,” Monsieur Lebigre tranquilly replied.
“It’s only some gentlemen talking together.”

Monsieur Lebigre, indeed, although very strict with his other customers,
allowed the politicians to shout as loudly as they pleased, and never
made the least remark on the subject. He would sit for hours together on
the bench behind the counter, with his big head lolling drowsily against
the mirror, whilst he watched Rose uncorking the bottles and giving a
wipe here and there with her duster. And in spite of the somniferous
effects of the wine fumes and the warm streaming gaslight, he would keep
his ears open to the sounds proceeding from the little room. At times,
when the voices grew noisier than usual, he got up from his seat and
went to lean against the partition; and occasionally he even pushed the
door open, and went inside and sat down there for a few minutes, giving
Gavard a friendly slap on the thigh. And then he would nod approval
of everything that was said. The poultry dealer asserted that although
friend Lebigre hadn’t the stuff of an orator in him, they might safely
reckon on him when the “shindy” came.

One morning, however, at the markets, when a tremendous row broke out
between Rose and one of the fish-wives, through the former accidentally
knocking over a basket of herrings, Florent heard Rose’s employer spoken
of as a “dirty spy” in the pay of the police. And after he had succeeded
in restoring peace, all sorts of stories about Monsieur Lebigre were
poured into his ears. Yes, the wine seller was in the pay of the police,
the fish-wives said; all the neighbourhood knew it. Before Mademoiselle
Saget had begun to deal with him she had once met him entering the
Prefecture to make his report. It was asserted, too, that he was a
money-monger, a usurer, and lent petty sums by the day to costermongers,
and let out barrows to them, exacting a scandalous rate of interest in
return. Florent was greatly disturbed by all this, and felt it his
duty to repeat it that evening to his fellow politicians. The latter,
however, only shrugged their shoulders, and laughed at his uneasiness.

“Poor Florent!” Charvet exclaimed sarcastically; “he imagines the whole
police force is on his track, just because he happens to have been sent
to Cayenne!”

Gavard gave his word of honour that Lebigre was perfectly staunch and
true, while Logre, for his part, manifested extreme irritation. He fumed
and declared that it would be quite impossible for them to get on if
everyone was to be accused of being a police spy; for his own part, he
would rather stay at home, and have nothing more to do with politics.
Why, hadn’t people even dared to say that he, Logre himself, who had
fought in ‘48 and ‘51, and had twice narrowly escaped transportation,
was a spy as well? As he shouted this out, he thrust his jaws forward,
and glared at the others as though he would have liked to ram the
conviction that he had nothing to do with the police down their throats.
At the sight of his furious glances his companions made gestures of
protestation. However, Lacaille, on hearing Monsieur Lebigre accused of
usury, silently lowered his head.

The incident was forgotten in the discussions which ensued. Since Logre
had suggested a conspiracy, Monsieur Lebigre had grasped the hands of
the frequenters of the little room with more vigor than ever. Their
custom, to tell the truth, was of but small value to him, for they never
ordered more than one “drink” apiece. They drained the last drops just
as they rose to leave, having been careful to allow a little to remain
in their glasses, even during their most heated arguments. In this wise
the one “shout” lasted throughout the evening. They shivered as they
turned out into the cold dampness of the night, and for a moment or two
remained standing on the footway with dazzled eyes and buzzing ears,
as though surprised by the dark silence of the street. Rose, meanwhile,
fastened the shutters behind them. Then, quite exhausted, at a loss for
another word they shook hands, separated, and went their different ways,
still mentally continuing the discussion of the evening, and regretting
that they could not ram their particular theories down each other’s
throats. Robine walked away, with his bent back bobbing up and down, in
the direction of the Rue Rambuteau; whilst Charvet and Clemence went
off through the markets on their return to the Luxembourg quarter, their
heels sounding on the flag-stones in military fashion, whilst they still
discussed some question of politics or philosophy, walking along side by
side, but never arm-in-arm.

The conspiracy ripened very slowly. At the commencement of the summer
the plotters had got no further than agreeing that it was necessary a
stroke should be attempted. Florent, who had at first looked upon
the whole business with a kind of distrust, had now, however, come to
believe in the possibility of a revolutionary movement. He took up the
matter seriously; making notes, and preparing plans in writing, while
the others still did nothing but talk. For his part, he began to
concentrate his whole life in the one persistent idea which made his
brain throb night after night; and this to such a degree that he at last
took his brother Quenu with him to Monsieur Lebigre’s, as though such a
course were quite natural. Certainly he had no thought of doing anything
improper. He still looked upon Quenu as in some degree his pupil, and
may even have considered it his duty to start him on the proper path.
Quenu was an absolute novice in politics, but after spending five or six
evenings in the little room he found himself quite in accord with the
others. When Lisa was not present he manifested much docility, a sort of
respect for his brother’s opinions. But the greatest charm of the affair
for him was really the mild dissipation of leaving his shop and shutting
himself up in the little room where the others shouted so loudly, and
where Clemence’s presence, in his opinion, gave a tinge of rakishness
and romance to the proceedings. He now made all haste with his
chitterlings in order that he might get away as early as possible,
anxious to lose not a single word of the discussions, which seemed to
him to be very brilliant, though he was not always able to follow them.
The beautiful Lisa did not fail to notice his hurry to be gone, but as
yet she refrained from saying anything. When Florent took him off, she
simply went to the door-step, and watched them enter Monsieur Lebigre’s,
her face paling somewhat, and a severe expression coming into her eyes.

One evening, as Mademoiselle Saget was peering out of her garret
casement, she recognised Quenu’s shadow on the frosted glass of the
“cabinet” window facing the Rue Pirouette. She had found her casement an
excellent post of observation, as it overlooked that milky transparency,
on which the gaslight threw silhouettes of the politicians, with noses
suddenly appearing and disappearing, gaping jaws abruptly springing into
sight and then vanishing, and huge arms, apparently destitute of bodies,
waving hither and thither. This extraordinary jumble of detached
limbs, these silent but frantic profiles, bore witness to the heated
discussions that went on in the little room, and kept the old maid
peering from behind her muslin curtains until the transparency turned
black. She shrewdly suspected some “bit of trickery,” as she phrased it.
By continual watching she had come to recognise the different shadows
by their hands and hair and clothes. As she gazed upon the chaos of
clenched fists, angry heads, and swaying shoulders, which seemed to
have become detached from their trunks and to roll about one atop of the
other, she would exclaim unhesitatingly, “Ah, there’s that big booby of
a cousin; there’s that miserly old Gavard; and there’s the hunchback;
and there’s that maypole of a Clemence!” Then, when the action of the
shadow-play became more pronounced, and they all seemed to have
lost control over themselves, she felt an irresistible impulse to go
downstairs to try to find out what was happening. Thus she now made a
point of buying her black-currant syrup at nights, pretending that she
felt out-of-sorts in the morning, and was obliged to take a sip as soon
as ever she was out of bed. On the evening when she noticed Quenu’s
massive head shadowed on the transparency in close proximity to
Charvet’s fist, she made her appearance at Monsieur Lebigre’s in a
breathless condition. To gain more time, she made Rose rinse out her
little bottle for her; however, she was about to return to her room when
she heard the pork butcher exclaim with a sort of childish candour:

“No, indeed, we’ll stand for it no longer! We’ll make a clean sweep of
all those humbugging Deputies and Ministers! Yes, we’ll send the whole
lot packing.”

Eight o’clock had scarcely struck on the following morning when
Mademoiselle Saget was already at the pork shop. She found Madame
Lecoeur and La Sarriette there, dipping their noses into the
heating-pan, and buying hot sausages for breakfast. As the old maid had
managed to draw them into her quarrel with La Normande with respect to
the ten-sou dab, they had at once made friends again with Lisa, and they
now had nothing but contempt for the handsome fish-girl, and assailed
her and her sister as good-for-nothing hussies, whose only aim was
to fleece men of their money. This opinion had been inspired by the
assertions of Mademoiselle Saget, who had declared to Madame Lecoeur
that Florent had induced one of the two girls to coquette with Gavard,
and that the four of them had indulged in the wildest dissipation at
Barratte’s--of course, at the poultry dealer’s expense. From the effects
of this impudent story Madame Lecoeur had not yet recovered; she wore a
doleful appearance, and her eyes were quite yellow with spleen.

That morning, however, it was for Madame Quenu that the old maid had
a shock in store. She looked round the counter, and then in her most
gentle voice remarked:

“I saw Monsieur Quenu last night. They seem to enjoy themselves
immensely in that little room at Lebigre’s, if one may judge from the
noise they make.”

Lisa had turned her head towards the street, listening very attentively,
but apparently unwilling to show it. The old maid paused, hoping that
one of the others would question her; and then, in a lower tone, she
added: “They had a woman with them. Oh, I don’t mean Monsieur Quenu, of
course! I didn’t say that; I don’t know--”

“It must be Clemence,” interrupted La Sarriette; “a big scraggy creature
who gives herself all sorts of airs just because she went to boarding
school. She lives with a threadbare usher. I’ve seen them together;
they always look as though they were taking each other off to the police

“Oh, yes; I know,” replied the old maid, who, indeed, knew everything
about Charvet and Clemence, and whose only purpose was to alarm Lisa.

The mistress of the pork shop, however, never flinched. She seemed to be
absorbed in watching something of great interest in the market yonder.
Accordingly the old maid had recourse to stronger measures. “I think,”
 said she, addressing herself to Madame Lecoeur, “that you ought to
advise your brother-in-law to be careful. Last night they were shouting
out the most shocking things in that little room. Men really seem to
lose their heads over politics. If anyone had heard them, it might have
been a very serious matter for them.”

“Oh! Gavard will go his own way,” sighed Madame Lecoeur. “It only wanted
this to fill my cup. I shall die of anxiety, I am sure, if he ever gets

As she spoke, a gleam shot from her dim eyes. La Sarriette, however,
laughed and wagged her little face, bright with the freshness of the
morning air.

“You should hear what Jules says of those who speak against the Empire,”
 she remarked. “They ought all to be thrown into the Seine, he told me;
for it seems there isn’t a single respectable person amongst them.”

“Oh! there’s no harm done, of course, so long as only people like myself
hear their foolish talk,” resumed Mademoiselle Saget. “I’d rather cut
my hand off, you know, than make mischief. Last night now, for instance,
Monsieur Quenu was saying----”

She again paused. Lisa had started slightly.

“Monsieur Quenu was saying that the Ministers and Deputies and all who
are in power ought to be shot.”

At this Lisa turned sharply, her face quite white and her hands clenched
beneath her apron.

“Quenu said that?” she curtly asked.

“Yes, indeed, and several other similar things that I can’t recollect
now. I heard him myself. But don’t distress yourself like that, Madame
Quenu. You know very well that I sha’n’t breathe a word. I’m quite old
enough to know what might harm a man if it came out. Oh, no; it will go
no further.”

Lisa had recovered her equanimity. She took a pride in the happy
peacefulness of her home; she would not acknowledge that there had ever
been the slightest difference between herself and her husband. And so
now she shrugged her shoulders and said with a smile: “Oh, it’s all a
pack of foolish nonsense.”

When the three others were in the street together they agreed that
handsome Lisa had pulled a very doleful face; and they were unanimously
of opinion that the mysterious goings-on of the cousin, the Mehudins,
Gavard, and the Quenus would end in trouble. Madame Lecoeur inquired
what was done to the people who got arrested “for politics,” but on this
point Mademoiselle Saget could not enlighten her; she only knew that
they were never seen again--no, never. And this induced La Sarriette to
suggest that perhaps they were thrown into the Seine, as Jules had said
they ought to be.

Lisa avoided all reference to the subject at breakfast and dinner that
day; and even in the evening, when Florent and Quenu went off together
to Monsieur Lebigre’s, there was no unwonted severity in her glance. On
that particular evening, however, the question of framing a constitution
for the future came under discussion, and it was one o’clock in the
morning before the politicians could tear themselves away from the
little room. The shutters had already been fastened, and they were
obliged to leave by a small door, passing out one at a time with bent
backs. Quenu returned home with an uneasy conscience. He opened the
three or four doors on his way to bed as gently as possible, walking
on tip-toe and stretching out his hands as he passed through the
sitting-room, to avoid a collision with any of the furniture. The whole
house seemed to be asleep. When he reached the bedroom, he was annoyed
to find that Lisa had not extinguished the candle, which was burning
with a tall, mournful flame in the midst of the deep silence. As Quenu
took off his shoes, and put them down in a corner, the time-piece struck
half past one with such a clear, ringing sound that he turned in alarm,
almost frightened to move, and gazing with an expression of angry
reproach at the shining gilded Gutenberg standing there, with his finger
on a book. Lisa’s head was buried in her pillow, and Quenu could only
see her back; but he divined that she was merely feigning sleep, and her
conduct in turning her back upon him was so instinct with reproach that
he felt sorely ill at ease. At last he slipped beneath the bed-clothes,
blew out the candle, and lay perfectly still. He could have sworn that
his wife was awake, though she did not speak to him; and presently he
fell asleep, feeling intensely miserable, and lacking the courage to say
good night.

He slept till late, and when he awoke he found himself sprawling in the
middle of the bed with the eider-down quilt up to his chin, whilst Lisa
sat in front of the secretaire, arranging some papers. His slumber
had been so heavy that he had not heard her rise. However, he now took
courage, and spoke to her from the depths of the alcove: “Why didn’t you
wake me? What are you doing there?”

“I’m sorting the papers in these drawers,” she replied in her usual tone
of voice.

Quenu felt relieved. But Lisa added: “One never knows what may happen.
If the police were to come--”

“What! the police?”

“Yes, indeed, the police; for you’re mixing yourself up with politics

At this Quenu sat up in bed, quite dazed and confounded by such a
violent and unexpected attack.

“I mix myself up with politics! I mix myself up with politics!” he
repeated. “It’s no concern of the police. I’ve nothing to do with any
compromising matters.”

“No,” replied Lisa, shrugging her shoulders; “you merely talk about
shooting everybody.”

“I! I!”

“Yes. And you bawl it out in a public-house! Mademoiselle Saget heard
you. All the neighbourhood knows by this time that you are a Red

Quenu fell back in bed again. He was not perfectly awake as yet. Lisa’s
words resounded in his ears as though he already heard the heavy tramp
of gendarmes at the bedroom door. He looked at her as she sat there,
with her hair already arranged, her figure tightly imprisoned in her
stays, her whole appearance the same as it was on any other morning; and
he felt more astonished than ever that she should be so neat and prim
under such extraordinary circumstances.

“I leave you absolutely free, you know,” she continued, as she went on
arranging the papers. “I don’t want to wear the breeches, as the saying
goes. You are the master, and you are at liberty to endanger your
position, compromise our credit, and ruin our business.”

Then, as Quenu tried to protest, she silenced him with a gesture. “No,
no; don’t say anything,” she continued. “This is no quarrel, and I am
not even asking an explanation from you. But if you had consulted me,
and we had talked the matter over together, I might have intervened.
Ah! it’s a great mistake to imagine that women understand nothing about
politics. Shall I tell you what my politics are?”

She had risen from her seat whilst speaking, and was now walking to and
fro between the bed and the window, wiping as she went some specks
of dust from the bright mahogany of the mirrored wardrobe and the

“My politics are the politics of honest folks,” said she. “I’m grateful
to the Government when business is prosperous, when I can eat my meals
in peace and comfort, and can sleep at nights without being awakened by
the firing of guns. There were pretty times in ‘48, were there not? You
remember our uncle Gradelle, the worthy man, showing us his books for
that year? He lost more than six thousand francs. Now that we have got
the Empire, however, everything prospers. We sell our goods readily
enough. You can’t deny it. Well, then, what is it that you want? How
will you be better off when you have shot everybody?”

She took her stand in front of the little night-table, crossed her arms
over her breast, and fixed her eyes upon Quenu, who had shuffled himself
beneath the bed-clothes, almost out of sight. He attempted to explain
what it was that his friends wanted, but he got quite confused in his
endeavours to summarise Florent’s and Charvet’s political and social
systems; and could only talk about the disregard shown to principles,
the accession of the democracy to power, and the regeneration of
society, in such a strange tangled way that Lisa shrugged her shoulders,
quite unable to understand him. At last, however, he extricated himself
from his difficulties by declaring that the Empire was the reign of
licentiousness, swindling finance, and highway robbery. And, recalling
an expression of Logre’s he added: “We are the prey of a band of
adventurers, who are pillaging, violating, and assassinating France.
We’ll have no more of them.”

Lisa, however, still shrugged her shoulders.

“Well, and is that all you have got to say?” she asked with perfect
coolness. “What has all that got to do with me? Even supposing it were
true, what then? Have I ever advised you to practise dishonest courses?
Have I ever prompted you to dishonour your acceptances, or cheat your
customers, or pile up money by fraudulent practices? Really, you’ll end
by making me quite angry! We are honest folks, and we don’t pillage or
assassinate anybody. That’s quite sufficient. What other folks do is no
concern of ours. If they choose to be rogues it’s their affair.”

She looked quite majestic and triumphant; and again pacing the room,
drawing herself up to her full height, she resumed: “A pretty notion
it is that people are to let their business go to rack and ruin just to
please those who are penniless. For my part, I’m in favour of making hay
while the sun shines, and supporting a Government which promotes trade.
If it does do dishonourable things, I prefer to know nothing about them.
I know that I myself commit none, and that no one in the neighbourhood
can point a finger at me. It’s only fools who go tilting at windmills.
At the time of the last elections, you remember, Gavard said that the
Emperor’s candidate had been bankrupt, and was mixed up in all sorts of
scandalous matters. Well, perhaps that was true, I don’t deny it; but
all the same, you acted wisely in voting for him, for all that was not
in question; you were not asked to lend the man any money or to transact
any business with him, but merely to show the Government that you were
pleased with the prosperity of the pork trade.”

At this moment Quenu called to mind a sentence of Charvet’s, asserting
that “the bloated bourgeois, the sleek shopkeepers, who backed up that
Government of universal gormandising, ought to be hurled into the sewers
before all others, for it was owing to them and their gluttonous egotism
that tyranny had succeeded in mastering and preying upon the nation.” He
was trying to complete this piece of eloquence when Lisa, carried off by
her indignation, cut him short.

“Don’t talk such stuff! My conscience doesn’t reproach me with anything.
I don’t owe a copper to anybody; I’m not mixed up in any dishonest
business; I buy and sell good sound stuff; and I charge no more than
others do. What you say may perhaps apply to people like our cousins,
the Saccards. They pretend to be even ignorant that I am in Paris; but
I am prouder than they are, and I don’t care a rap for their millions.
It’s said that Saccard speculates in condemned buildings, and cheats and
robs everybody. I’m not surprised to hear it, for he was always that way
inclined. He loves money just for the sake of wallowing in it, and then
tossing it out of his windows, like the imbecile he is. I can understand
people attacking men of his stamp, who pile up excessive fortunes. For
my part, if you care to know it, I have but a bad opinion of Saccard.
But we--we who live so quietly and peaceably, who will need at least
fifteen years to put by sufficient money to make ourselves comfortably
independent, we who have no reason to meddle in politics, and whose
only aim is to bring up our daughter respectably, and to see that our
business prospers--why you must be joking to talk such stuff about us.
We are honest folks!”

She came and sat down on the edge of the bed. Quenu was already much
shaken in his opinions.

“Listen to me, now,” she resumed in a more serious voice. “You surely
don’t want to see your own shop pillaged, your cellar emptied, and your
money taken from you? If these men who meet at Monsieur Lebigre’s should
prove triumphant, do you think that you would then lie as comfortably
in your bed as you do now? And on going down into the kitchen, do you
imagine that you would set about making your galantines as peacefully
as you will presently? No, no, indeed! So why do you talk about
overthrowing a Government which protects you, and enables you to put
money by? You have a wife and a daughter, and your first duty is towards
them. You would be in fault if you imperilled their happiness. It is
only those who have neither home nor hearth, who have nothing to lose,
who want to be shooting people. Surely you don’t want to pull the
chestnuts out of the fire for _them_! So stay quietly at home, you
foolish fellow, sleep comfortably, eat well, make money, keep an easy
conscience, and leave France to free herself of the Empire if the Empire
annoys her. France can get on very well without _you_.”

She laughed her bright melodious laugh as she finished; and Quenu was
now altogether convinced. Yes, she was right, after all; and she looked
so charming, he thought, as she sat there on the edge of the bed, so
trim, although it was so early, so bright, and so fresh in the dazzling
whiteness of her linen. As he listened to her his eyes fell on their
portraits hanging on either side of the fireplace. Yes, they were
certainly honest folks; they had such a respectable, well-to-do air in
their black clothes and their gilded frames! The bedroom, too, looked
as though it belonged to people of some account in the world. The lace
squares seemed to give a dignified appearance to the chairs; and
the carpet, the curtains, and the vases decorated with painted
landscapes--all spoke of their exertions to get on in the world and
their taste for comfort. Thereupon he plunged yet further beneath the
eider-down quilt, which kept him in a state of pleasant warmth. He
began to feel that he had risked losing all these things at Monsieur
Lebigre’s--his huge bed, his cosy room, and his business, on which
his thoughts now dwelt with tender remorse. And from Lisa, from the
furniture, from all his cosy surroundings, he derived a sense of comfort
which thrilled him with a delightful, overpowering charm.

“You foolish fellow!” said his wife, seeing that he was now quite
conquered. “A pretty business it was that you’d embarked upon; but you’d
have had to reckon with Pauline and me, I can tell you! And now don’t
bother your head any more about the Government. To begin with, all
Governments are alike, and if we didn’t have this one, we should have
another. A Government is necessary. But the one thing is to be able to
live on, to spend one’s savings in peace and comfort when one grows old,
and to know that one has gained one’s means honestly.”

Quenu nodded his head in acquiescence, and tried to commence a
justification of his conduct.

“It was Gavard--,” he began.

But Lisa’s face again assumed a serious expression, and she interrupted
him sharply.

“No, it was not Gavard. I know very well who it was; and it would be
a great deal better if he would look after his own safety before
compromising that of others.”

“Is it Florent you mean?” Quenu timidly inquired after a pause.

Lisa did not immediately reply. She got up and went back to the
secretaire, as if trying to restrain herself.

“Yes, it is Florent,” she said presently, in incisive tones. “You know
how patient I am. I would bear almost anything rather than come between
you and your brother. The tie of relationship is a sacred thing. But the
cup is filled to overflowing now. Since your brother came here things
have been constantly getting worse and worse. But now, I won’t say
anything more; it is better that I shouldn’t.”

There was another pause. Then, as her husband gazed up at the ceiling
with an air of embarrassment, she continued, with increased violence:

“Really, he seems to ignore all that we have done for him. We have
put ourselves to great inconvenience for his sake; we have given him
Augustine’s bedroom, and the poor girl sleeps without a murmur in a
stuffy little closet where she can scarcely breathe. We board and lodge
him and give him every attention--but no, he takes it all quite as a
matter of course. He is earning money, but what he does with it nobody
knows; or, rather, one knows only too well.”

“But there’s his share of the inheritance, you know,” Quenu ventured to
say, pained at hearing his brother attacked.

Lisa suddenly stiffened herself as though she were stunned, and her
anger vanished.

“Yes, you are right; there is his share of the inheritance. Here is
the statement of it, in this drawer. But he refused to take it; you
remember, you were present, and heard him. That only proves that he is a
brainless, worthless fellow. If he had had an idea in his head, he would
have made something out of that money by now. For my own part, I should
be very glad to get rid of it; it would be a relief to us. I have told
him so twice, but he won’t listen to me. You ought to persuade him to
take it. Talk to him about it, will you?”

Quenu growled something in reply; and Lisa refrained from pressing the
point further, being of opinion that she had done all that could be
expected of her.

“He is not like other men,” she resumed. “He’s not a comfortable sort of
person to have in the house. I shouldn’t have said this if we hadn’t got
talking on the subject. I don’t busy myself about his conduct, though
it’s setting the whole neighbourhood gossiping about us. Let him eat
and sleep here, and put us about, if he likes; we can get over that; but
what I won’t tolerate is that he should involve us in his politics. If
he tries to lead you off again, or compromises us in the least degree,
I shall turn him out of the house without the least hesitation. I warn
you, and now you understand!”

Florent was doomed. Lisa was making a great effort to restrain herself,
to prevent the animosity which had long been rankling in her heart
from flowing forth. But Florent and his ways jarred against her every
instinct; he wounded her, frightened her, and made her quite miserable.

“A man who has made such a discreditable career,” she murmured, “who has
never been able to get a roof of his own over his head! I can very well
understand his partiality for bullets! He can go and stand in their way
if he chooses; but let him leave honest folks to their families! And
then, he isn’t pleasant to have about one! He reeks of fish in the
evening at dinner! It prevents me from eating. He himself never lets a
mouthful go past him, though it’s little better he seems to be for it
all! He can’t even grow decently stout, the wretched fellow, to such a
degree do his bad instincts prey on him!”

She had stepped up to the window whilst speaking, and now saw Florent
crossing the Rue Rambuteau on his way to the fish market. There was
a very large arrival of fish that morning; the tray-like baskets were
covered with rippling silver, and the auction rooms roared with the
hubbub of their sales. Lisa kept her eyes on the bony shoulders of her
brother-in-law as he made his way into the pungent smells of the market,
stooping beneath the sickening sensation which they brought him; and
the glance with which she followed his steps was that of a woman bent on
combat and resolved to be victorious.

When she turned round again, Quenu was getting up. As he sat on the edge
of the bed in his night-shirt, still warm from the pleasant heat of the
eider-down quilt and with his feet resting on the soft fluffy rug below
him, he looked quite pale, quite distressed at the misunderstanding
between his wife and his brother. Lisa, however, gave him one of her
sweetest smiles, and he felt deeply touched when she handed him his


Marjolin had been found in a heap of cabbages at the Market of the
Innocents. He was sleeping under the shelter of a large white-hearted
one, a broad leaf of which concealed his rosy childish face It was never
known what poverty-stricken mother had laid him there. When he was found
he was already a fine little fellow of two or three years of age,
very plump and merry, but so backward and dense that he could scarcely
stammer a few words, and only seemed able to smile. When one of the
vegetable saleswomen found him lying under the big white cabbage she
raised such a loud cry of surprise that her neighbours rushed up to
see what was the matter, while the youngster, still in petticoats, and
wrapped in a scrap of old blanket, held out his arms towards her.
He could not tell who his mother was, but opened his eyes in wide
astonishment as he squeezed against the shoulder of a stout tripe dealer
who eventually took him up. The whole market busied itself about him
throughout the day. He soon recovered confidence, ate slices of bread
and butter, and smiled at all the women. The stout tripe dealer kept him
for a time, then a neighbour took him; and a month later a third woman
gave him shelter. When they asked him where his mother was, he waved his
little hand with a pretty gesture which embraced all the women present.
He became the adopted child of the place, always clinging to the skirts
of one or another of the women, and always finding a corner of a bed and
a share of a meal somewhere. Somehow, too, he managed to find clothes,
and he even had a copper or two at the bottom of his ragged pockets. It
was a buxom, ruddy girl dealing in medicinal herbs who gave him the name
of Marjolin,[*] though no one knew why.

[*] Literally “Marjoram.”

When Marjolin was nearly four years of age, old Mother Chantemesse also
happened to find a child, a little girl, lying on the footway of the Rue
Saint Denis, near the corner of the market. Judging by the little one’s
size, she seemed to be a couple of years old, but she could already
chatter like a magpie, murdering her words in an incessant childish
babble. Old Mother Chantemesse after a time gathered that her name was
Cadine, and that on the previous evening her mother had left her sitting
on a doorstep, with instructions to wait till she returned. The child
had fallen asleep there, and did not cry. She related that she was
beaten at home; and she gladly followed Mother Chantemesse, seemingly
quite enchanted with that huge square, where there were so many people
and such piles of vegetables. Mother Chantemesse, a retail dealer by
trade, was a crusty but very worthy woman, approaching her sixtieth
year. She was extremely fond of children, and had lost three boys of her
own when they were mere babies. She came to the opinion that the chit
she had found “was far too wide awake to kick the bucket,” and so she
adopted her.

One evening, however, as she was going off home with her right hand
clasping Cadine’s, Marjolin came up and unceremoniously caught hold of
her left hand.

“Nay, my lad,” said the old woman, stopping, “the place is filled. Have
you left your big Therese, then? What a fickle little gadabout you are!”

The boy gazed at her with his smiling eyes, without letting go of her
hand. He looked so pretty with his curly hair that she could not resist
him. “Well, come along, then, you little scamp,” said she; “I’ll put you
to bed as well.”

Thus she made her appearance in the Rue au Lard, where she lived, with
a child clinging to either hand. Marjolin made himself quite at home
there. When the two children proved too noisy the old woman cuffed them,
delighted to shout and worry herself, and wash the youngsters, and pack
them away beneath the blankets. She had fixed them up a little bed in
an old costermonger’s barrow, the wheels and shafts of which had
disappeared. It was like a big cradle, a trifle hard, but retaining a
strong scent of the vegetables which it had long kept fresh and cool
beneath a covering of damp cloths. And there, when four years old,
Cadine and Marjolin slept locked in each other’s arms.

They grew up together, and were always to be seen with their arms about
one another’s waist. At night time old Mother Chantemesse heard them
prattling softly. Cadine’s clear treble went chattering on for hours
together, while Marjolin listened with occasional expressions of
astonishment vented in a deeper tone. The girl was a mischievous young
creature, and concocted all sorts of stories to frighten her companion;
telling him, for instance, that she had one night seen a man, dressed
all in white, looking at them and putting out a great red tongue, at
the foot of the bed. Marjolin quite perspired with terror, and anxiously
asked for further particulars; but the girl would then begin to jeer at
him, and end by calling him a big donkey. At other times they were
not so peaceably disposed, but kicked each other beneath the blankets.
Cadine would pull up her legs, and try to restrain her laughter as
Marjolin missed his aim, and sent his feet banging against the wall.
When this happened, old Madame Chantemesse was obliged to get up to put
the bed-clothes straight again; and, by way of sending the children to
sleep, she would administer a box on the ear to both of them. For a long
time their bed was a sort of playground. They carried their toys into
it, and munched stolen carrots and turnips as they lay side by side.
Every morning their adopted mother was amazed at the strange things she
found in the bed--pebbles, leaves, apple cores, and dolls made out of
scraps of rags. When the very cold weather came, she went off to her
work, leaving them sleeping there, Cadine’s black mop mingling with
Marjolin’s sunny curls, and their mouths so near together that they
looked as though they were keeping each other warm with their breath.

The room in the Rue au Lard was a big, dilapidated garret, with a single
window, the panes of which were dimmed by the rain. The children would
play at hide-and-seek in the tall walnut wardrobe and underneath Mother
Chantemesse’s colossal bed. There were also two or three tables in the
room, and they crawled under these on all fours. They found the place a
very charming playground, on account of the dim light and the vegetables
scattered about in the dark corners. The street itself, too, narrow and
very quiet, with a broad arcade opening into the Rue de la Lingerie,
provided them with plenty of entertainment. The door of the house was by
the side of the arcade; it was a low door and could only be opened half
way owing to the near proximity of the greasy corkscrew staircase. The
house, which had a projecting pent roof and a bulging front, dark with
damp, and displaying greenish drain-sinks near the windows of each
floor, also served as a big toy for the young couple. They spent their
mornings below in throwing stones up into the drain-sinks, and the
stones thereupon fell down the pipes with a very merry clatter. In thus
amusing themselves, however, they managed to break a couple of windows,
and filled the drains with stones, so that Mother Chantemesse, who had
lived in the house for three and forty years, narrowly escaped being
turned out of it.

Cadine and Marjolin then directed their attention to the vans and drays
and tumbrels which were drawn up in the quiet street. They clambered on
to the wheels, swung from the dangling chains, and larked about amongst
the piles of boxes and hampers. Here also were the back premises of the
commission agents of the Rue de la Poterie--huge, gloomy warehouses,
each day filled and emptied afresh, and affording a constant succession
of delightful hiding-places, where the youngsters buried themselves
amidst the scent of dried fruits, oranges, and fresh apples. When
they got tired of playing in his way, they went off to join old
Madame Chantemesse at the Market of the Innocents. They arrived there
arm-in-arm, laughing gaily as they crossed the streets with never the
slightest fear of being run over by the endless vehicles. They knew the
pavement well, and plunged their little legs knee-deep in the vegetable
refuse without ever slipping. They jeered merrily at any porter in
heavy boots who, in stepping over an artichoke stem, fell sprawling
full-length upon the ground. They were the rosy-cheeked familiar spirits
of those greasy streets. They were to be seen everywhere.

On rainy days they walked gravely beneath the shelter of a ragged old
umbrella, with which Mother Chantemesse had protected her stock-in-trade
for twenty years, and sticking it up in a corner of the market they
called it their house. On sunny days they romped to such a degree that
when evening came they were almost too tired to move. They bathed their
feet in the fountains, dammed up the gutters, or hid themselves beneath
piles of vegetables, and remained there prattling to each other just as
they did in bed at night. People passing some huge mountain of cos or
cabbage lettuces often heard a muffled sound of chatter coming from
it. And when the green-stuff was removed, the two children would be
discovered lying side by side on their couch of verdure, their eyes
glistening uneasily like those of birds discovered in the depth of a
thicket. As time went on, Cadine could not get along without Marjolin,
and Marjolin began to cry when he lost sight of Cadine. If they happened
to get separated, they sought one another behind the petticoats of every
stallkeeper in the markets, amongst the boxes and under the cabbages. If
was, indeed, chiefly under the cabbages that they grew up and learned to
love each other.

Marjolin was nearly eight years old, and Cadine six, when old Madame
Chantemesse began to reproach them for their idleness. She told them
that she would interest them in her business, and pay them a sou a day
to assist her in paring her vegetables. During the first few days the
children displayed eager zeal; they squatted down on either side of
the big flat basket with little knives in their hands, and worked away
energetically. Mother Chantemesse made a specialty of pared vegetables;
on her stall, covered with a strip of damp black lining, were little
lots of potatoes, turnips, carrots, and white onions, arranged in
pyramids of four--three at the base and one at the apex, all quite ready
to be popped into the pans of dilatory housewives. She also had bundles
duly stringed in readiness for the soup-pot--four leeks, three carrots,
a parsnip, two turnips, and a couple of springs of celery. Then there
were finely cut vegetables for julienne soup laid out on squares of
paper, cabbages cut into quarters, and little heaps of tomatoes and
slices of pumpkin which gleamed like red stars and golden crescents
amidst the pale hues of the other vegetables. Cadine evinced much more
dexterity than Marjolin, although she was younger. The peelings of the
potatoes she pared were so thin that you could see through them; she
tied up the bundles for the soup-pot so artistically that they looked
like bouquets; and she had a way of making the little heaps she set up,
though they contained but three carrots or turnips, look like very big
ones. The passers-by would stop and smile when she called out in her
shrill childish voice: “Madame! madame! come and try me! Each little
pile for two sous.”

She had her regular customers, and her little piles and bundles were
widely known. Old Mother Chantemesse, seated between the two children,
would indulge in a silent laugh which made her bosom rise almost to
her chin, at seeing them working away so seriously. She paid them their
daily sous most faithfully. But they soon began to weary of the little
heaps and bundles; they were growing up, and began to dream of some more
lucrative business. Marjolin remained very childish for his years, and
this irritated Cadine. He had no more brains than a cabbage, she often
said. And it was, indeed, quite useless for her to devise any plan for
him to make money; he never earned any. He could not even do an errand
satisfactorily. The girl, on the other hand, was very shrewd. When but
eight years old she obtained employment from one of those women who sit
on a bench in the neighbourhood of the markets provided with a basket
of lemons, and employ a troop of children to go about selling them.
Carrying the lemons in her hands and offering them at two for three
sous, Cadine thrust them under every woman’s nose, and ran after every
passer-by. Her hands empty, she hastened back for a fresh supply. She
was paid two sous for every dozen lemons that she sold, and on good
days she could earn some five or six sous. During the following year
she hawked caps at nine sous apiece, which proved a more profitable
business; only she had to keep a sharp look-out, as street trading of
this kind is forbidden unless one be licensed. However, she scented
a policeman at a distance of a hundred yards; and the caps forthwith
disappeared under her skirts, whilst she began to munch an apple with
an air of guileless innocence. Then she took to selling pastry, cakes,
cherry-tarts, gingerbread, and thick yellow maize biscuits on wicker
trays. Marjolin, however, ate up nearly the whole of her stock-in-trade.
At last, when she was eleven years old, she succeeded in realising a
grand idea which had long been worrying her. In a couple of months she
put by four francs, bought a small _hotte_,[*] and then set up as a
dealer in birds’ food.

[*] A basket carried on the back.--Translator.

It was a big affair. She got up early in the morning and purchased her
stock of groundsel, millet, and bird-cake from the wholesale
dealers. Then she set out on her day’s work, crossing the river, and
perambulating the Latin Quarter from the Rue Saint Jacques to the Rue
Dauphine, and even to the Luxembourg. Marjolin used to accompany her,
but she would not let him carry the basket. He was only fit to call out,
she said; and so, in his thick, drawling voice, he would raise the cry,
“Chickweed for the little birds!”

Then Cadine herself, with her flute-like voice, would start on a strange
scale of notes ending in a clear, protracted alto, “Chickweed for the
little birds!”

They each took one side of the road, and looked up in the air as they
walked along. In those days Marjolin wore a big scarlet waistcoat
which hung down to his knees; it had belonged to the defunct Monsieur
Chantemesse, who had been a cab-driver. Cadine for her part wore a white
and blue check gown, made out of an old tartan of Madame Chantemesse’s.
All the canaries in the garrets of the Latin Quarter knew them; and, as
they passed along, repeating their cry, each echoing the other’s voice,
every cage poured out a song.

Cadine sold water-cress, too. “Two sous a bunch! Two sous a bunch!” And
Marjolin went into the shops to offer it for sale. “Fine water-cress!
Health for the body! Fine fresh water-cress!”

However, the new central markets had just been erected, and the girl
would stand gazing in ecstacy at the avenue of flower stalls which runs
through the fruit pavilion. Here on either hand, from end to end, big
clumps of flowers bloom as in the borders of a garden walk. It is a
perfect harvest, sweet with perfume, a double hedge of blossoms, between
which the girls of the neighbourhood love to walk, smiling the while,
though almost stifled by the heavy perfume. And on the top tiers of the
stalls are artificial flowers, with paper leaves, in which dewdrops are
simulated by drops of gum; and memorial wreaths of black and white beads
rippling with bluish reflections. Cadine’s rosy nostrils would dilate
with feline sensuality; she would linger as long as possible in that
sweet freshness, and carry as much of the perfume away with her as she
could. When her hair bobbed under Marjolin’s nose he would remark that
it smelt of pinks. She said that she had given over using pomatum; that
is was quite sufficient for her to stroll through the flower walk in
order to scent her hair. Next she began to intrigue and scheme with
such success that she was engaged by one of the stallkeepers. And then
Marjolin declared that she smelt sweet from head to foot. She lived in
the midst of roses, lilacs, wall-flowers, and lilies of the valley;
and Marjolin would playfully smell at her skirts, feign a momentary
hesitation, and then exclaim, “Ah, that’s lily of the valley!” Next he
would sniff at her waist and bodice: “Ah, that’s wall-flowers!” And at
her sleeves and wrists: “Ah, that’s lilac!” And at her neck, and her
cheeks and lips: “Ah, but that’s roses!” he would cry. Cadine used to
laugh at him, and call him a “silly stupid,” and tell him to get away,
because he was tickling her with the tip of his nose. As she spoke her
breath smelt of jasmine. She was verily a bouquet, full of warmth and

She now got up at four o’clock every morning to assist her mistress in
her purchases. Each day they bought armfuls of flowers from the
suburban florists, with bundles of moss, and bundles of fern fronds,
and periwinkle leaves to garnish the bouquets. Cadine would gaze with
amazement at the diamonds and Valenciennes worn by the daughters of
the great gardeners of Montreuil, who came to the markets amidst their

On the saints’ days of popular observance, such as Saint Mary’s, Saint
Peter’s, and Saint Joseph’s days, the sale of flowers began at two
o’clock. More than a hundred thousand francs’ worth of cut flowers would
be sold on the footways, and some of the retail dealers would make
as much as two hundred francs in a few hours. On days like those only
Cadine’s curly locks peered over the mounds of pansies, mignonette, and
marguerites. She was quite drowned and lost in the flood of flowers.
Then she would spend all her time in mounting bouquets on bits of rush.
In a few weeks she acquired considerable skillfulness in her business,
and manifested no little originality. Her bouquets did not always
please everybody, however. Sometimes they made one smile, sometimes they
alarmed the eyes. Red predominated in them, mottled with violent tints
of blue, yellow, and violet of a barbaric charm. On the mornings when
she pinched Marjolin, and teased him till she made him cry, she made up
fierce-looking bouquets, suggestive of her own bad temper, bouquets
with strong rough scents and glaring irritating colours. On other days,
however, when she was softened by some thrill of joy or sorrow, her
bouquets would assume a tone of silvery grey, very soft and subdued, and
delicately perfumed.

Then, too, she would set roses, as sanguineous as open hearts, in lakes
of snow-white pinks; arrange bunches of tawny iris that shot up in
tufts of flame from foliage that seemed scared by the brilliance of the
flowers; work elaborate designs, as complicated as those of Smyrna rugs,
adding flower to flower, as on a canvas; and prepare rippling fanlike
bouquets spreading out with all the delicacy of lace. Here was a cluster
of flowers of delicious purity, there a fat nosegay, whatever one might
dream of for the hand of a marchioness or a fish-wife; all the charming
quaint fancies, in short, which the brain of a sharp-witted child of
twelve, budding into womanhood, could devise.

There were only two flowers for which Cadine retained respect; white
lilac, which by the bundle of eight or ten sprays cost from fifteen to
twenty francs in the winter time; and camellias, which were still more
costly, and arrived in boxes of a dozen, lying on beds of moss, and
covered with cotton wool. She handled these as delicately as though they
were jewels, holding her breath for fear of dimming their lustre, and
fastening their short stems to springs of cane with the tenderest care.
She spoke of them with serious reverence. She told Marjolin one day
that a speckless white camellia was a very rare and exceptionally lovely
thing, and, as she was making him admire one, he exclaimed: “Yes;
it’s pretty; but I prefer your neck, you know. It’s much more soft and
transparent than the camellia, and there are some little blue and pink
veins just like the pencillings on a flower.” Then, drawing near and
sniffing, he murmured: “Ah! you smell of orange blossom to-day.”

Cadine was self-willed, and did not get on well in the position of a
servant, so she ended by setting up in business on her own account. As
she was only thirteen at the time, and could not hope for a big trade
and a stall in the flower avenue, she took to selling one-sou bunches
of violets pricked into a bed of moss in an osier tray which she carried
hanging from her neck. All day long she wandered about the markets and
their precincts with her little bit of hanging garden. She loved this
continual stroll, which relieved the numbness of her limbs after long
hours spent, with bent knees, on a low chair, making bouquets. She
fastened her violets together with marvellous deftness as she walked
along. She counted out six or eight flowers, according to the season,
doubled a sprig of cane in half, added a leaf, twisted some damp thread
round the whole, and broke off the thread with her strong young teeth.
The little bunches seemed to spring spontaneously from the layer of
moss, so rapidly did she stick them into it.

Along the footways, amidst the jostling of the street traffic, her
nimble fingers were ever flowering though she gave them not a glance,
but boldly scanned the shops and passers-by. Sometimes she would rest in
a doorway for a moment; and alongside the gutters, greasy with kitchen
slops, she sat, as it were a patch of springtime, a suggestion of green
woods, and purple blossoms. Her flowers still betokened her frame of
mind, her fits of bad temper and her thrills of tenderness. Sometimes
they bristled and glowered with anger amidst their crumpled leaves; at
other times they spoke only of love and peacefulness as they smiled in
their prim collars. As Cadine passed along, she left a sweet perfume
behind her; Marjolin followed her devoutly. From head to foot she now
exhaled but one scent, and the lad repeated that she was herself a
violet, a great big violet.

“Do you remember the day when we went to Romainville together?” he would
say; “Romainville, where there are so many violets. The scent was just
the same. Oh! don’t change again--you smell too sweetly.”

And she did not change again. This was her last trade. Still, she often
neglected her osier tray to go rambling about the neighbourhood. The
building of the central markets--as yet incomplete--provided both
children with endless opportunities for amusement. They made their way
into the midst of the work-yards through some gap or other between
the planks; they descended into the foundations, and climbed up to the
cast-iron pillars. Every nook, every piece of the framework witnessed
their games and quarrels; the pavilions grew up under the touch of their
little hands. From all this arose the affection which they felt for
the great markets, and which the latter seemed to return. They were on
familiar terms with that gigantic pile, old friends as they were, who
had seen each pin and bolt put into place. They felt no fear of the huge
monster; but slapped it with their childish hands, treated it like
a good friend, a chum whose presence brought no constraint. And the
markets seemed to smile at these two light-hearted children, whose love
was the song, the idyll of their immensity.

Cadine alone now slept at Mother Chantemesse’s. The old woman had packed
Marjolin off to a neighbour’s. This made the two children very unhappy.
Still, they contrived to spend much of their time together. In the
daytime they would hide themselves away in the warehouses of the Rue au
Lard, behind piles of apples and cases of oranges; and in the evening
they would dive into the cellars beneath the poultry market, and secret
themselves among the huge hampers of feathers which stood near the
blocks where the poultry was killed. They were quite alone there, amidst
the strong smell of the poultry, and with never a sound but the sudden
crowing of some rooster to break upon their babble and their
laughter. The feathers amidst which they found themselves were of
all sorts--turkey’s feathers, long and black; goose quills, white and
flexible; the downy plumage of ducks, soft like cotton wool; and the
ruddy and mottled feathers of fowls, which at the faintest breath flew
up in a cloud like a swarm of flies buzzing in the sun. And then in
wintertime there was the purple plumage of the pheasants, the ashen
grey of the larks, the splotched silk of the partridges, quails, and
thrushes. And all these feathers freshly plucked were still warm and
odoriferous, seemingly endowed with life. The spot was as cosy as a
nest; at times a quiver as of flapping wings sped by, and Marjolin and
Cadine, nestling amidst all the plumage, often imagined that they were
being carried aloft by one of those huge birds with outspread pinions
that one hears of in the fairy tales.

As time went on their childish affection took the inevitable turn.
Veritable offsprings of Nature, knowing naught of social conventions and
restraints, they loved one another in all innocence and guilelessness.
They mated even as the birds of the air mate, even as youth and maid
mated in primeval times, because such is Nature’s law. At sixteen
Cadine was a dusky town gipsy, greedy and sensual, whilst Marjolin, now
eighteen, was a tall, strapping fellow, as handsome a youth as could
be met, but still with his mental faculties quite undeveloped. He had
lived, indeed, a mere animal life, which had strengthened his frame, but
left his intellect in a rudimentary state.

When old Madame Chantemesse realised the turn that things were taking
she wrathfully upbraided Cadine and struck out vigorously at her with
her broom. But the hussy only laughed and dodged the blows, and then
hied off to her lover. And gradually the markets became their home,
their manger, their aviary, where they lived and loved amidst the meat,
the butter, the vegetables, and the feathers.

They discovered another little paradise in the pavilion where butter,
eggs, and cheese were sold wholesale. Enormous walls of empty baskets
were here piled up every morning, and amidst these Cadine and Marjolin
burrowed and hollowed out a dark lair for themselves. A mere partition
of osier-work separated them from the market crowd, whose loud voices
rang out all around them. They often shook with laughter when people,
without the least suspicion of their presence, stopped to talk together
a few yards away from them. On these occasions they would contrive
peepholes, and spy through them, and when cherries were in season Cadine
tossed the stones in the faces of all the old women who passed along--a
pastime which amused them the more as the startled old crones could
never make out whence the hail of cherry-stones had come. They also
prowled about the depths of the cellars, knowing every gloomy corner of
them, and contriving to get through the most carefully locked gates. One
of their favourite amusements was to visit the track of the subterranean
railway, which had been laid under the markets, and which those who
planned the latter had intended to connect with the different goods’
stations of Paris. Sections of this railway were laid beneath each
of the covered ways, between the cellars of each pavilion; the work,
indeed, was in such an advanced state that turn-tables had been put into
position at all the points of intersection, and were in readiness for
use. After much examination, Cadine and Marjolin had at last succeeded
in discovering a loose plank in the hoarding which enclosed the track,
and they had managed to convert it into a door, by which they could
easily gain access to the line. There they were quite shut off from
the world, though they could hear the continuous rumbling of the street
traffic over their heads.

The line stretched through deserted vaults, here and there illumined
by a glimmer of light filtering through iron gratings, while in certain
dark corners gas jets were burning. And Cadine and Marjolin rambled
about as in the secret recesses of some castle of their own, secure from
all interruption, and rejoicing in the buzzy silence, the murky glimmer,
and subterranean secrecy, which imparted a touch of melodrama to their
experiences. All sorts of smells were wafted through the hoarding from
the neighbouring cellars; the musty smell of vegetables, the pungency of
fish, the overpowering stench of cheese, and the warm reek of poultry.

At other times, on clear nights and fine dawns, they would climb on to
the roofs, ascending thither by the steep staircases of the turrets
at the angles of the pavilions. Up above they found fields of leads,
endless promenades and squares, a stretch of undulating country which
belonged to them. They rambled round the square roofs of the pavilions,
followed the course of the long roofs of the covered ways, climbed and
descended the slopes, and lost themselves in endless perambulations of
discovery. And when they grew tired of the lower levels they ascended
still higher, venturing up the iron ladders, on which Cadine’s skirts
flapped like flags. Then they ran along the second tier of roofs beneath
the open heavens. There was nothing save the stars above them. All sorts
of sounds rose up from the echoing markets, a clattering and rumbling,
a vague roar as of a distant tempest heard at nighttime. At that height
the morning breeze swept away the evil smells, the foul breath of
the awaking markets. They would kiss one another on the edge of the
gutterings like sparrows frisking on the house-tops. The rising fires
of the sun illumined their faces with a ruddy glow. Cadine laughed
with pleasure at being so high up in the air, and her neck shone with
iridescent tints like a dove’s; while Marjolin bent down to look at
the street still wrapped in gloom, with his hands clutching hold of
the leads like the feet of a wood-pigeon. When they descended to earth
again, joyful from their excursion in the fresh air, they would remark
to one another that they were coming back from the country.

It was in the tripe market that they had made the acquaintance of Claude
Lantier. They went there every day, impelled thereto by an animal taste
for blood, the cruel instinct of urchins who find amusement in the sight
of severed heads. A ruddy stream flowed along the gutters round the
pavilion; they dipped the tips of their shoes in it, and dammed it up
with leaves, so as to form large pools of blood. They took a strong
interest in the arrival of the loads of offal in carts which always
smelt offensively, despite all the drenchings of water they got; they
watched the unloading of the bundles of sheep’s trotters, which were
piled up on the ground like filthy paving-stones, of the huge stiffened
tongues, bleeding at their torn roots, and of the massive bell-shaped
bullocks’ hearts. But the spectacle which, above all others, made
them quiver with delight was that of the big dripping hampers, full of
sheep’s heads, with greasy horns and black muzzles, and strips of woolly
skin dangling from bleeding flesh. The sight of these conjured up in
their minds the idea of some guillotine casting into the baskets the
heads of countless victims.

They followed the baskets into the depths of the cellar, watching them
glide down the rails laid over the steps, and listening to the rasping
noise which the casters of these osier waggons made in their descent.
Down below there was a scene of exquisite horror. They entered into a
charnel-house atmosphere, and walked along through murky puddles, amidst
which every now and then purple eyes seem to be glistening. At times
the soles of their boots stuck to the ground, at others they splashed
through the horrible mire, anxious and yet delighted. The gas jets
burned low, like blinking, bloodshot eyes. Near the water-taps, in the
pale light falling through the gratings, they came upon the blocks; and
there they remained in rapture watching the tripe men, who, in aprons
stiffened by gory splashings, broke the sheep’s heads one after another
with a blow of their mallets. They lingered there for hours, waiting
till all the baskets were empty, fascinated by the crackling of the
bones, unable to tear themselves away till all was over. Sometimes an
attendant passed behind them, cleansing the cellar with a hose; floods
of water rushed out with a sluice-like roar, but although the violence
of the discharge actually ate away the surface of the flagstones, it was
powerless to remove the ruddy stains and stench of blood.

Cadine and Marjolin were sure of meeting Claude between four and five in
the afternoon at the wholesale auction of the bullocks’ lights. He
was always there amidst the tripe dealers’ carts backed up against the
kerb-stones and the blue-bloused, white-aproned men who jostled him and
deafened his ears by their loud bids. But he never felt their elbows; he
stood in a sort of ecstatic trance before the huge hanging lights, and
often told Cadine and Marjolin that there was no finer sight to be seen.
The lights were of a soft rosy hue, gradually deepening and turning at
the lower edges to a rich carmine; and Claude compared them to watered
satin, finding no other term to describe the soft silkiness of those
flowing lengths of flesh which drooped in broad folds like ballet
dancers’ skirts. He thought, too, of gauze and lace allowing a glimpse
of pinky skin; and when a ray of sunshine fell upon the lights and
girdled them with gold an expression of languorous rapture came into his
eyes, and he felt happier than if he had been privileged to contemplate
the Greek goddesses in their sovereign nudity, or the chatelaines of
romance in their brocaded robes.

The artist became a great friend of the two young scapegraces. He loved
beautiful animals, and such undoubtedly they were. For a long time he
dreamt of a colossal picture which should represent the loves of Cadine
and Marjolin in the central markets, amidst the vegetables, the fish,
and the meat. He would have depicted them seated on some couch of food,
their arms circling each other’s waists, and their lips exchanging an
idyllic kiss. In this conception he saw a manifesto proclaiming the
positivism of art--modern art, experimental and materialistic. And it
seemed to him also that it would be a smart satire on the school which
wishes every painting to embody an “idea,” a slap for the old traditions
and all they represented. But during a couple of years he began study
after study without succeeding in giving the particular “note” he
desired. In this way he spoilt fifteen canvases. His failure filled him
with rancour; however, he continued to associate with his two models
from a sort of hopeless love for his abortive picture. When he met them
prowling about in the afternoon, he often scoured the neighbourhood
with them, strolling around with his hands in his pockets, and deeply
interested in the life of the streets.

They all three trudged along together, dragging their heels over the
footways and monopolising their whole breadth so as to force others to
step down into the road. With their noses in the air they sniffed in the
odours of Paris, and could have recognised every corner blindfold by the
spirituous emanations of the wine shops, the hot puffs that came from
the bakehouses and confectioners’, and the musty odours wafted from the
fruiterers’. They would make the circuit of the whole district. They
delighted in passing through the rotunda of the corn market, that huge
massive stone cage where sacks of flour were piled up on every side, and
where their footsteps echoed in the silence of the resonant roof. They
were fond, too, of the little narrow streets in the neighbourhood, which
had become as deserted, as black, and as mournful as though they formed
part of an abandoned city. These were the Rue Babille, the Rue Sauval,
the Rue des Deux Ecus, and the Rue de Viarmes, this last pallid from its
proximity to the millers’ stores, and at four o’clock lively by reason
of the corn exchange held there. It was generally at this point that
they started on their round. They made their way slowly along the
Rue Vauvilliers, glancing as they went at the windows of the low
eating-houses, and thus reaching the miserably narrow Rue des
Prouvaires, where Claude blinked his eyes as he saw one of the covered
ways of the market, at the far end of which, framed round by this huge
iron nave, appeared a side entrance of St. Eustache with its rose and
its tiers of arched windows. And then, with an air of defiance, he would
remark that all the middle ages and the Renaissance put together were
less mighty than the central markets. Afterwards, as they paced the
broad new streets, the Rue du Pont Neuf and the Rue des Halles, he
explained modern life with its wide footways, its lofty houses, and its
luxurious shops, to the two urchins. He predicted, too, the advent of
new and truly original art, whose approach he could divine, and despair
filled him that its revelation should seemingly be beyond his own

Cadine and Marjolin, however, preferred the provincial quietness of the
Rue des Bourdonnais, where one can play at marbles without fear of
being run over. The girl perked her head affectedly as she passed the
wholesale glove and hosiery stores, at each door of which bareheaded
assistants, with their pens stuck in their ears, stood watching her with
a weary gaze. And she and her lover had yet a stronger preference for
such bits of olden Paris as still existed: the Rue de la Poterie and the
Rue de la Lingerie, with their butter and egg and cheese dealers; the
Rue de la Ferronerie and the Rue de l’Aiguillerie (the beautiful streets
of far-away times), with their dark narrow shops; and especially the Rue
Courtalon, a dank, dirty by-way running from the Place Sainte Opportune
to the Rue Saint Denis, and intersected by foul-smelling alleys where
they had romped in their younger days. In the Rue Saint Denis they
entered into the land of dainties; and they smiled upon the dried
apples, the “Spanishwood,” the prunes, and the sugar-candy in the
windows of the grocers and druggists. Their ramblings always set them
dreaming of a feast of good things, and inspired them with a desire to
glut themselves on the contents of the windows. To them the district
seemed like some huge table, always laid with an everlasting dessert
into which they longed to plunge their fingers.

They devoted but a moment to visiting the other blocks of tumble-down
old houses, the Rue Pirouette, the Rue de Mondetour, the Rue de la
Petite Truanderie, and the Rue de la Grande Truanderie, for they took
little interest in the shops of the dealers in edible snails, cooked
vegetables, tripe, and drink. In the Rue de la Grand Truanderie,
however, there was a soap factory, an oasis of sweetness in the midst of
all the foul odours, and Marjolin was fond of standing outside it till
some one happened to enter or come out, so that the perfume which swept
through the doorway might blow full in his face. Then with all speed
they returned to the Rue Pierre Lescot and the Rue Rambuteau. Cadine was
extremely fond of salted provisions; she stood in admiration before the
bundles of red-herrings, the barrels of anchovies and capers, and the
little casks of gherkins and olives, standing on end with wooden spoons
inside them. The smell of the vinegar titillated her throat; the pungent
odour of the rolled cod, smoked salmon, bacon and ham, and the sharp
acidity of the baskets of lemons, made her mouth water longingly. She
was also fond of feasting her eyes on the boxes of sardines piled up in
metallic columns amidst the cases and sacks. In the Rue Montorgueil
and the Rue Montmartre were other tempting-looking groceries and
restaurants, from whose basements appetising odours were wafted, with
glorious shows of game and poultry, and preserved-provision shops, which
last displayed beside their doors open kegs overflowing with yellow
sourkrout suggestive of old lacework. Then they lingered in the Rue
Coquilliere, inhaling the odour of truffles from the premises of a
notable dealer in comestibles, which threw so strong a perfume into the
street that Cadine and Marjolin closed their eyes and imagined they
were swallowing all kinds of delicious things. These perfumes, however,
distressed Claude. They made him realise the emptiness of his stomach,
he said; and, leaving the “two animals” to feast on the odour of
the truffles--the most penetrating odour to be found in all the
neighbourhood--he went off again to the corn market by way of the Rue
Oblin, studying on his road the old women who sold green-stuff in
the doorways and the displays of cheap pottery spread out on the

Such were their rambles in common; but when Cadine set out alone with
her bunches of violets she often went farther afield, making it a point
to visit certain shops for which she had a particular partiality. She
had an especial weakness for the Taboureau bakery establishment, one of
the windows of which was exclusively devoted to pastry. She would follow
the Rue Turbigo and retrace her steps a dozen times in order to pass
again and again before the almond cakes, the _savarins_, the St. Honore
tarts, the fruit tarts, and the various dishes containing bunlike
_babas_ redolent of rum, eclairs combining the finger biscuit with
chocolate, and _choux a la crème_, little rounds of pastry overflowing
with whipped white of egg. The glass jars full of dry biscuits,
macaroons, and _madeleines_ also made her mouth water; and the bright
shop with its big mirrors, its marble slabs, its gilding, its bread-bins
of ornamental ironwork, and its second window in which long glistening
loaves were displayed slantwise, with one end resting on a crystal
shelf whilst above they were upheld by a brass rod, was so warm and
odoriferous of baked dough that her features expanded with pleasure
when, yielding to temptation, she went in to buy a _brioche_ for two

Another shop, one in front of the Square des Innocents, also filled her
with gluttonous inquisitiveness, a fever of longing desire. This shop
made a specialty of forcemeat pasties. In addition to the ordinary ones
there were pasties of pike and pasties of truffled _foie gras_; and the
girl would gaze yearningly at them, saying to herself that she would
really have to eat one some day.

Cadine also had her moments of vanity and coquetry. When these fits
were on her, she bought herself in imagination some of the magnificent
dresses displayed in the windows of the “Fabriques de France” which
made the Pointe Saint Eustache gaudy with their pieces of bright stuff
hanging from the first floor to the footway and flapping in the breeze.
Somewhat incommoded by the flat basket hanging before her, amidst the
crowd of market women in dirty aprons gazing at future Sunday dresses,
the girl would feel the woollens, flannels, and cottons to test the
texture and suppleness of the material; and she would promise herself a
gown of bright-coloured flannelling, flowered print, or scarlet poplin.
Sometimes even from amongst the pieces draped and set off to advantage
by the window-dressers she would choose some soft sky-blue or
apple-green silk, and dream of wearing it with pink ribbons. In the
evenings she would dazzle herself with the displays in the windows of
the big jewellers in the Rue Montmartre. That terrible street deafened
her with its ceaseless flow of vehicles, and the streaming crowd never
ceased to jostle her; still she did not stir, but remained feasting her
eyes on the blazing splendour set out in the light of the reflecting
lamps which hung outside the windows. On one side all was white with the
bright glitter of silver: watches in rows, chains hanging, spoons
and forks laid crossways, cups, snuff-boxes, napkin-rings, and combs
arranged on shelves. The silver thimbles, dotting a porcelain stand
covered with a glass shade, had an especial attraction for her. Then
on the other side the windows glistened with the tawny glow of gold. A
cascade of long pendant chains descended from above, rippling with ruddy
gleams; small ladies’ watches, with the backs of their cases displayed,
sparkled like fallen stars; wedding rings clustered round slender rods;
bracelets, broaches, and other costly ornaments glittered on the black
velvet linings of their cases; jewelled rings set their stands aglow
with blue, green, yellow, and violet flamelets; while on every tier of
the shelves superposed rows of earrings and crosses and lockets hung
against the crystal like the rich fringes of altar-cloths. The glow of
this gold illumined the street half way across with a sun-like radiance.
And Cadine, as she gazed at it, almost fancied that she was in presence
of something holy, or on the threshold of the Emperor’s treasure
chamber. She would for a long time scrutinise all this show of gaudy
jewellery, adapted to the taste of the fish-wives, and carefully read
the large figures on the tickets affixed to each article; and eventually
she would select for herself a pair of earrings--pear-shaped drops of
imitation coral hanging from golden roses.

One morning Claude caught her standing in ecstasy before a
hair-dresser’s window in the Rue Saint Honore. She was gazing at the
display of hair with an expression of intense envy. High up in the
window was a streaming cascade of long manes, soft wisps, loose tresses,
frizzy falls, undulating comb-curls, a perfect cataract of silky and
bristling hair, real and artificial, now in coils of a flaming red, now
in thick black crops, now in pale golden locks, and even in snowy white
ones for the coquette of sixty. In cardboard boxes down below were
cleverly arranged fringes, curling side-ringlets, and carefully combed
chignons glossy with pomade. And amidst this framework, in a sort of
shrine beneath the ravelled ends of the hanging locks, there revolved
the bust of a woman, arrayed in a wrapper of cherry-coloured satin
fastened between the breasts with a brass brooch. The figure wore a
lofty bridal coiffure picked out with sprigs of orange blossom, and
smiled with a dollish smile. Its eyes were pale blue; its eyebrows were
very stiff and of exaggerated length; and its waxen cheeks and shoulders
bore evident traces of the heat and smoke of the gas. Cadine waited
till the revolving figure again displayed its smiling face, and as its
profile showed more distinctly and it slowly went round from left to
right she felt perfectly happy. Claude, however, was indignant, and,
shaking Cadine, he asked her what she was doing in front of “that
abomination, that corpse-like hussy picked up at the Morgue!” He flew
into a temper with the “dummy’s” cadaverous face and shoulders, that
disfigurement of the beautiful, and remarked that artists painted
nothing but that unreal type of woman nowadays. Cadine, however,
remained unconvinced by his oratory, and considered the lady extremely
beautiful. Then, resisting the attempts of the artist to drag her away
by the arm, and scratching her black mop in vexation, she pointed to an
enormous ruddy tail, severed from the quarters of some vigorous mare,
and told him she would have liked to have a crop of hair like that.

During the long rambles when Claude, Cadine, and Marjolin prowled about
the neighbourhood of the markets, they saw the iron ribs of the giant
building at the end of every street. Wherever they turned they caught
sudden glimpses of it; the horizon was always bounded by it; merely the
aspect under which it was seen varied. Claude was perpetually turning
round, and particularly in the Rue Montmartre, after passing the church.
From that point the markets, seen obliquely in the distance, filled him
with enthusiasm. A huge arcade, a giant, gaping gateway, was open before
him; then came the crowding pavilions with their lower and upper roofs,
their countless Venetian shutters and endless blinds, a vision, as it
were, of superposed houses and palaces; a Babylon of metal of Hindoo
delicacy of workmanship, intersected by hanging terraces, aerial
galleries, and flying bridges poised over space. The trio always
returned to this city round which they strolled, unable to stray
more than a hundred yards away. They came back to it during the hot
afternoons when the Venetian shutters were closed and the blinds
lowered. In the covered ways all seemed to be asleep, the ashy greyness
was streaked by yellow bars of sunlight falling through the high
windows. Only a subdued murmur broke the silence; the steps of a few
hurrying passers-by resounded on the footways; whilst the badge-wearing
porters sat in rows on the stone ledges at the corners of the pavilions,
taking off their boots and nursing their aching feet. The quietude
was that of a colossus at rest, interrupted at times by some cock-crow
rising from the cellars below.

Claude, Cadine, and Marjolin then often went to see the empty hampers
piled upon the drays, which came to fetch them every afternoon so that
they might be sent back to the consignors. There were mountains of them,
labelled with black letters and figures, in front of the salesmen’s
warehouses in the Rue Berger. The porters arranged them symmetrically,
tier by tier, on the vehicles. When the pile rose, however, to the
height of a first floor, the porter who stood below balancing the next
batch of hampers had to make a spring in order to toss them up to his
mate, who was perched aloft with arms extended. Claude, who delighted
in feats of strength and dexterity, would stand for hours watching the
flight of these masses of osier, and would burst into a hearty laugh
whenever too vigorous a toss sent them flying over the pile into the
roadway beyond. He was fond, too, of the footways of the Rue Rambuteau
and the Rue du Pont Neuf, near the fruit market, where the retail
dealers congregated. The sight of the vegetables displayed in the open
air, on trestle-tables covered with damp black rags, was full of charm
for him. At four in the afternoon the whole of this nook of greenery was
aglow with sunshine; and Claude wandered between the stalls, inspecting
the bright-coloured heads of the saleswomen with keen artistic relish.
The younger ones, with their hair in nets, had already lost all
freshness of complexion through the rough life they led; while the older
ones were bent and shrivelled, with wrinkled, flaring faces showing
under the yellow kerchiefs bound round their heads. Cadine and Marjolin
refused to accompany him hither, as they could perceive old Mother
Chantemesse shaking her fist at them, in her anger at seeing them
prowling about together. He joined them again, however, on the opposite
footway, where he found a splendid subject for a picture in the
stallkeepers squatting under their huge umbrellas of faded red, blue,
and violet, which, mounted upon poles, filled the whole market-side with
bumps, and showed conspicuously against the fiery glow of the sinking
sun, whose rays faded amidst the carrots and the turnips. One tattered
harridan, a century old, was sheltering three spare-looking lettuces
beneath an umbrella of pink silk, shockingly split and stained.

Cadine and Marjolin had struck up an acquaintance with Leon, Quenu’s
apprentice, one day when he was taking a pie to a house in the
neighbourhood. They saw him cautiously raise the lid of his pan in a
secluded corner of the Rue de Mondetour, and delicately take out a ball
of forcemeat. They smiled at the sight, which gave them a very high
opinion of Leon. And the idea came to Cadine that she might at last
satisfy one of her most ardent longings. Indeed, the very next time that
she met the lad with his basket she made herself very agreeable, and
induced him to offer her a forcemeat ball. But, although she laughed and
licked her fingers, she experienced some disappointment. The forcemeat
did not prove nearly so nice as she had anticipated. On the other hand,
the lad, with his sly, greedy phiz and his white garments, which made
him look like a girl going to her first communion, somewhat took her

She invited him to a monster lunch which she gave amongst the hampers
in the auction room at the butter market. The three of them--herself,
Marjolin, and Leon--completely secluded themselves from the world within
four walls of osier. The feast was laid out on a large flat basket.
There were pears, nuts, cream-cheese, shrimps, fried potatoes,
and radishes. The cheese came from a fruiterer’s in the Rue de la
Cossonnerie, and was a present; and a “frier” of the Rue de la Grande
Truanderie had given Cadine credit for two sous’ worth of potatoes. The
rest of the feast, the pears, the nuts, the shrimps, and the radishes,
had been pilfered from different parts of the market. It was a delicious
treat; and Leon, desirous of returning the hospitality, gave a supper
in his bedroom at one o’clock in the morning. The bill of fare included
cold black-pudding, slices of polony, a piece of salt pork, some
gherkins, and some goose-fat. The Quenu-Gradelles’ shop had provided
everything. And matters did not stop there. Dainty suppers alternated
with delicate luncheons, and invitation upon invitation. Three times a
week there were banquets, either amidst the hampers or in Leon’s garret,
where Florent, on the nights when he lay awake, could hear a stifled
sound of munching and rippling laughter until day began to break.

The loves of Cadine and Marjolin now took another turn. The youth played
the gallant, and just as another might entertain his _innamorata_ at a
champagne supper _en tete a tete_ in a private room, he led Cadine into
some quiet corner of the market cellars to munch apples or sprigs of
celery. One day he stole a red-herring, which they devoured with immense
enjoyment on the roof of the fish market beside the guttering. There was
not a single shady nook in the whole place where they did not indulge in
secret feasts. The district, with its rows of open shops full of fruit
and cakes and preserves, was no longer a closed paradise, in front of
which they prowled with greedy, covetous appetites. As they passed
the shops they now extended their hands and pilfered a prune, a few
cherries, or a bit of cod. They also provisioned themselves at the
markets, keeping a sharp look-out as they made their way between the
stalls, picking up everything that fell, and often assisting the fall by
a push of their shoulders.

In spite, however, of all the marauding, some terrible scores had to be
run up with the “frier” of the Rue de la Grand Truanderie. This “frier,”
 whose shanty leaned against a tumble-down house, and was propped up by
heavy joists, green with moss, made a display of boiled mussels lying in
large earthenware bowls filled to the brim with clear water; of dishes
of little yellow dabs stiffened by too thick a coating of paste; of
squares of tripe simmering in a pan; and of grilled herrings, black and
charred, and so hard that if you tapped them they sounded like wood. On
certain weeks Cadine owed the frier as much as twenty sous, a crushing
debt, which required the sale of an incalculable number of bunches of
violets, for she could count upon no assistance from Marjolin. Moreover,
she was bound to return Leon’s hospitalities; and she even felt some
little shame at never being able to offer him a scrap of meat. He
himself had now taken to purloining entire hams. As a rule, he stowed
everything away under his shirt; and at night when he reached his
bedroom he drew from his bosom hunks of polony, slices of _pate de foie
gras_, and bundles of pork rind. They had to do without bread, and there
was nothing to drink; but no matter. One night Marjolin saw Leon kiss
Cadine between two mouthfuls; however, he only laughed. He could have
smashed the little fellow with a blow from his fist, but he felt no
jealousy in respect of Cadine. He treated her simply as a comrade with
whom he had chummed for years.

Claude never participated in these feasts. Having caught Cadine one day
stealing a beet-root from a little hamper lined with hay, he had pulled
her ears and given her a sound rating. These thieving propensities made
her perfect as a ne’er-do-well. However, in spite of himself, he could
not help feeling a sort of admiration for these sensual, pilfering,
greedy creatures, who preyed upon everything that lay about, feasting
off the crumbs that fell from the giant’s table.

At last Marjolin nominally took service under Gavard, happy in having
nothing to do except to listen to his master’s flow of talk, while
Cadine still continued to sell violets, quite accustomed by this time to
old Mother Chantemesse’s scoldings. They were still the same children as
ever, giving way to their instincts and appetites without the slightest
shame--they were the growth of the slimy pavements of the market
district, where, even in fine weather, the mud remains black and sticky.
However, as Cadine walked along the footways, mechanically twisting her
bunches of violets, she was sometimes disturbed by disquieting reveries;
and Marjolin, too, suffered from an uneasiness which he could not
explain. He would occasionally leave the girl and miss some ramble or
feast in order to go and gaze at Madame Quenu through the windows of her
pork shop. She was so handsome and plump and round that it did him good
to look at her. As he stood gazing at her, he felt full and satisfied,
as though he had just eaten or drunk something extremely nice. And when
he went off, a sort of hunger and thirst to see her again suddenly came
upon him. This had been going on for a couple of months. At first he
had looked at her with the respectful glance which he bestowed upon the
shop-fronts of the grocers and provision dealers; but subsequently, when
he and Cadine had taken to general pilfering, he began to regard her
smooth cheeks much as he regarded the barrels of olives and boxes of
dried apples.

For some time past Marjolin had seen handsome Lisa every day, in the
morning. She would pass Gavard’s stall, and stop for a moment or two to
chat with the poultry dealer. She now did her marketing herself, so
that she might be cheated as little as possible, she said. The truth,
however, was that she wished to make Gavard speak out. In the pork shop
he was always distrustful, but at his stall he chatted and talked with
the utmost freedom. Now, Lisa had made up her mind to ascertain from him
exactly what took place in the little room at Monsieur Lebigre’s; for
she had no great confidence in her secret police office, Mademoiselle
Saget. In a short time she learnt from the incorrigible chatterbox a
lot of vague details which very much alarmed her. Two days after her
explanation with Quenu she returned home from the market looking very
pale. She beckoned to her husband to follow her into the dining-room,
and having carefully closed the door she said to him: “Is your brother
determined to send us to the scaffold, then? Why did you conceal from me
what you knew?”

Quenu declared that he knew nothing. He even swore a great oath that he
had not returned to Monsieur Lebigre’s, and would never go there again.

“You will do well not to do so,” replied Lisa, shrugging her shoulders,
“unless you want to get yourself into a serious scrape. Florent is up to
some evil trick, I’m certain of it! I have just learned quite sufficient
to show me where he is going. He’s going back to Cayenne, do you hear?”

Then, after a pause, she continued in calmer ones: “Oh, the unhappy man!
He had everything here that he could wish for. He might have redeemed
his character; he had nothing but good examples before him. But no,
it is in his blood! He will come to a violent end with his politics! I
insist upon there being an end to all this! You hear me, Quenu? I gave
you due warning long ago!”

She spoke the last words very incisively. Quenu bent his head, as if
awaiting sentence.

“To begin with,” continued Lisa, “he shall cease to take his meals here.
It will be quite sufficient if we give him a bed. He is earning money;
let him feed himself.”

Quenu seemed on the point of protesting, but his wife silenced him by
adding energetically:

“Make your choice between him and me. If he remains here, I swear to
you that I will go away, and take my daughter with me. Do you want me to
tell you the whole truth about him? He is a man capable of anything; he
has come here to bring discord into our household. But I will set things
right, you may depend on it. You have your choice between him and me;
you hear me?”

Then, leaving her husband in silent consternation, she returned to the
shop, where she served a customer with her usual affable smile. The fact
was that, having artfully inveigled Gavard into a political discussion,
the poultry dealer had told her that she would soon see how the land
lay, that they were going to make a clean sweep of everything, and that
two determined men like her brother-in-law and himself would suffice to
set the fire blazing. This was the evil trick of which she had spoken
to Quenu, some conspiracy to which Gavard was always making mysterious
allusions with a sniggering grin from which he seemingly desired a great
deal to be inferred. And in imagination Lisa already saw the gendarmes
invading the pork shop, gagging herself, her husband, and Pauline, and
casting them into some underground dungeon.

In the evening, at dinner, she evinced an icy frigidity. She made no
offers to serve Florent, but several times remarked: “It’s very strange
what an amount of bread we’ve got through lately.”

Florent at last understood. He felt that he was being treated like a
poor relation who is gradually turned out of doors. For the last two
months Lisa had dressed him in Quenu’s old trousers and coats; and, as
he was as thin as his brother was fat, these ragged garments had a most
extraordinary appearance upon him. She also turned her oldest linen over
to him: pocket-handkerchiefs which had been darned a score of times,
ragged towels, sheets which were only fit to be cut up into dusters and
dish-cloths, and worn-out shirts, distended by Quenu’s corpulent
figure, and so short that they would have served Florent as under-vests.
Moreover, he no longer found around him the same good-natured kindliness
as in the earlier days. The whole household seemed to shrug its
shoulders after the example set by handsome Lisa. Auguste and Augustine
turned their backs upon him, and little Pauline, with the cruel
frankness of childhood, let fall some bitter remarks about the stains
on his coat and the holes in his shirt. However, during the last days he
suffered most at table. He scarcely dared to eat, as he saw the mother
and daughter fix their gaze upon him whenever he cut himself a piece of
bread. Quenu meantime peered into his plate, to avoid having to take any
part in what went on.

That which most tortured Florent was his inability to invent a reason
for leaving the house. During a week he kept on revolving in his mind a
sentence expressing his resolve to take his meals elsewhere, but could
not bring himself to utter it. Indeed, this man of tender nature lived
in such a world of illusions that he feared he might hurt his brother
and sister-in-law by ceasing to lunch and dine with them. It had taken
him over two months to detect Lisa’s latent hostility; and even now he
was sometimes inclined to think that he must be mistaken, and that
she was in reality kindly disposed towards him. Unselfishness with
him extended to forgetfulness of his requirements; it was no longer
a virtue, but utter indifference to self, an absolute obliteration of
personality. Even when he recognised that he was being gradually turned
out of the house, his mind never for a moment dwelt upon his share in
old Gradelle’s fortune, or upon the accounts which Lisa had offered him.
He had already planned out his expenditure for the future; reckoning
that with what Madame Verlaque still allowed him to retain of his
salary, and the thirty francs a month which a pupil, obtained through
La Normande, paid him he would be able to spend eighteen sous on his
breakfast and twenty-six sous on his dinner. This, he thought, would be
ample. And so, at last, taking as his excuse the lessons which he was
giving his new pupil, he emboldened himself one morning to pretend
that it would be impossible for him in future to come to the house
at mealtimes. He blushed as he gave utterance to this laboriously
constructed lie, which had given him so much trouble, and continued

“You mustn’t be offended; the boy only has those hours free. I can
easily get something to eat, you know; and I will come and have a chat
with you in the evenings.”

Beautiful Lisa maintained her icy reserve, and this increased Florent’s
feeling of trouble. In order to have no cause for self-reproach she had
been unwilling to send him about his business, preferring to wait till
he should weary of the situation and go of his own accord. Now he was
going, and it was a good riddance; and she studiously refrained from
all show of kindliness for fear it might induce him to remain. Quenu,
however, showed some signs of emotion, and exclaimed: “Don’t think of
putting yourself about; take your meals elsewhere by all means, if it
is more convenient. It isn’t we who are turning you way; you’ll at all
events dine with us sometimes on Sundays, eh?”

Florent hurried off. His heart was very heavy. When he had gone, the
beautiful Lisa did not venture to reproach her husband for his weakness
in giving that invitation for Sundays. She had conquered, and again
breathed freely amongst the light oak of her dining-room, where she
would have liked to burn some sugar to drive away the odour of perverse
leanness which seemed to linger about. Moreover, she continued to remain
on the defensive; and at the end of another week she felt more alarmed
than ever. She only occasionally saw Florent in the evenings, and
began to have all sorts of dreadful thoughts, imagining that her
brother-in-law was constructing some infernal machine upstairs in
Augustine’s bedroom, or else making signals which would result in
barricades covering the whole neighbourhood. Gavard, who had become
gloomy, merely nodded or shook his head when she spoke to him, and left
his stall for days together in Marjolin’s charge. The beautiful Lisa,
however, determined that she would get to the bottom of affairs. She
knew that Florent had obtained a day’s leave, and intended to spend
it with Claude Lantier, at Madame Francois’s, at Nanterre. As he would
start in the morning, and remain away till night, she conceived the idea
of inviting Gavard to dinner. He would be sure to talk freely, at table,
she thought. But throughout the morning she was unable to meet the
poultry dealer, and so in the afternoon she went back again to the

Marjolin was in the stall alone. He used to drowse there for hours,
recouping himself from the fatigue of his long rambles. He generally sat
upon one chair with his legs resting upon another, and his head leaning
against a little dresser. In the wintertime he took a keen delight in
lolling there and contemplating the display of game; the bucks hanging
head downwards, with their fore-legs broken and twisted round their
necks; the larks festooning the stall like garlands; the big ruddy
hares, the mottled partridges, the water-fowl of a bronze-grey hue, the
Russian black cocks and hazel hens, which arrived in a packing of oat
straw and charcoal;[*] and the pheasants, the magnificent pheasants,
with their scarlet hoods, their stomachers of green satin, their mantles
of embossed gold, and their flaming tails, that trailed like trains of
court robes. All this show of plumage reminded Marjolin of his rambles
in the cellars with Cadine amongst the hampers of feathers.

     [*] The baskets in which these are sent to Paris are
     identical with those which in many provinces of Russia serve
     the _moujiks_ as cradles for their infants.--Translator.

That afternoon the beautiful Lisa found Marjolin in the midst of the
poultry. It was warm, and whiffs of hot air passed along the narrow
alleys of the pavilion. She was obliged to stoop before she could see
him stretched out inside the stall, below the bare flesh of the birds.
From the hooked bar up above hung fat geese, the hooks sticking in the
bleeding wounds of their long stiffened necks, while their huge bodies
bulged out, glowing ruddily beneath their fine down, and, with their
snowy tails and wings, suggesting nudity encompassed by fine linen.
And also hanging from the bar, with ears thrown back and feet parted
as though they were bent on some vigorous leap, were grey rabbits whose
turned-up tails gleamed whitely, whilst their heads, with sharp teeth
and dim eyes, laughed with the grin of death. On the counter of the
stall plucked fowls showed their strained fleshy breasts; pigeons,
crowded on osier trays, displayed the soft bare skin of innocents;
ducks, with skin of rougher texture, exhibited their webbed feet; and
three magnificent turkeys, speckled with blue dots, like freshly-shaven
chins, slumbered on their backs amidst the black fans of their expanded
tails. On plates near by were giblets, livers, gizzards, necks, feet,
and wings; while an oval dish contained a skinned and gutted rabbit,
with its four legs wide apart, its head bleeding, and is kidneys showing
through its gashed belly. A streamlet of dark blood, after trickling
along its back to its tail, had fallen drop by drop, staining the
whiteness of the dish. Marjolin had not even taken the trouble to wipe
the block, near which the rabbit’s feet were still lying. He reclined
there with his eyes half closed, encompassed by other piles of dead
poultry which crowded the shelves of the stall, poultry in paper
wrappers like bouquets, rows upon rows of protuberant breasts and bent
legs showing confusedly. And amidst all this mass of food, the young
fellow’s big, fair figure, the flesh of his cheeks, hands, and powerful
neck covered with ruddy down seemed as soft as that of the magnificent
turkeys, and as plump as the breasts of the fat geese.

When he caught sight of Lisa, he at once sprang up, blushing at having
been caught sprawling in this way. He always seemed very nervous and ill
at ease in Madame Quenu’s presence; and when she asked him if Monsieur
Gavard was there, he stammered out: “No, I don’t think so. He was here a
little while ago, but he want away again.”

Lisa looked at him, smiling; she had a great liking for him. But feeling
something warm brush against her hand, which was hanging by her side,
she raised a little shriek. Some live rabbits were thrusting their noses
out of a box under the counter of the stall, and sniffing at her skirts.

“Oh,” she exclaimed with a laugh, “it’s your rabbits that are tickling

Then she stooped and attempted to stroke a white rabbit, which darted in
alarm into a corner of the box.

“Will Monsieur Gavard be back soon, do you think?” she asked, as she
again rose erect.

Marjolin once more replied that he did not know; then in a hesitating
way he continued: “He’s very likely gone down into the cellars. He told
me, I think, that he was going there.”

“Well, I think I’ll wait for him, then,” replied Lisa. “Could you let
him know that I am here? or I might go down to him, perhaps. Yes, that’s
a good idea; I’ve been intending to go and have a look at the cellars
for these last five years. You’ll take me down, won’t you, and explain
things to me?”

Marjolin blushed crimson, and, hurrying out of the stall, walked on in
front of her, leaving the poultry to look after itself. “Of course I
will,” said he. “I’ll do anything you wish, Madame Lisa.”

When they got down below, the beautiful Lisa felt quite suffocated by
the dank atmosphere of the cellar. She stood at the bottom step, and
raised her eyes to look at the vaulted roofing of red and white bricks
arching slightly between the iron ribs upheld by small columns. What
made her hesitate more than the gloominess of the place was a warm,
penetrating odour, the exhalations of large numbers of living creatures,
which irritated her nostrils and throat.

“What a nasty smell!” she exclaimed. “It must be very unhealthy down

“It never does me any harm,” replied Marjolin in astonishment. “There’s
nothing unpleasant about the smell when you’ve got accustomed to it; and
it’s very warm and cosy down here in the wintertime.”

As Lisa followed him, however, she declared that the strong scent of the
poultry quite turned her stomach, and that she would certainly not
be able to eat a fowl for the next two months. All around her, the
storerooms, the small cabins where the stallkeepers keep their live
stock, formed regular streets, intersecting each other at right angles.
There were only a few scattered gas lights, and the little alleys seemed
wrapped in sleep like the lanes of a village where the inhabitants
have all gone to bed. Marjolin made Lisa feel the close-meshed wiring,
stretched on a framework of cast iron; and as she made her way along one
of the streets she amused herself by reading the names of the different
tenants, which were inscribed on blue labels.

“Monsieur Gavard’s place is quite at the far end,” said the young man,
still walking on.

They turned to the left, and found themselves in a sort of blind alley,
a dark, gloomy spot where not a ray of light penetrated. Gavard was not

“Oh, it makes no difference,” said Marjolin. “I can show you our birds
just the same. I have a key of the storeroom.”

Lisa followed him into the darkness.

“You don’t suppose that I can see your birds in this black oven, do
you?” she asked, laughing.

Marjolin did not reply at once; but presently he stammered out that
there was always a candle in the storeroom. He was fumbling about the
lock, and seemed quite unable to find the keyhole. As Lisa came up to
help him, she felt a hot breath on her neck; and when the young man had
at last succeeded in opening the door and lighted the candle, she saw
that he was trembling.

“You silly fellow!” she exclaimed, “to get yourself into such a state
just because a door won’t open! Why, you’re no better than a girl, in
spite of your big fists!”

She stepped inside the storeroom. Gavard had rented two compartments,
which he had thrown into one by removing the partition between them. In
the dirt on the floor wallowed the larger birds--the geese, turkeys,
and ducks--while up above, on tiers of shelves, were boxes with barred
fronts containing fowls and rabbits. The grating of the storeroom was so
coated with dust and cobwebs that it looked as though covered with grey
blinds. The woodwork down below was rotting, and covered with filth.
Lisa, however, not wishing to vex Marjolin, refrained from any further
expression of disgust. She pushed her fingers between the bars of the
boxes, and began to lament the fate of the unhappy fowls, which were
so closely huddled together and could not even stand upright. Then she
stroked a duck with a broken leg which was squatting in a corner, and
the young man told her that it would be killed that very evening, for
fear lest it should die during the night.

“But what do they do for food?” asked Lisa.

Thereupon he explained to her that poultry would not eat in the dark,
and that it was necessary to light a candle and wait there till they had
finished their meal.

“It amuses me to watch them,” he continued; “I often stay here with a
light for hours altogether. You should see how they peck away; and when
I hide the flame of the candle with my hand they all stand stock-still
with their necks in the air, just as though the sun had set. It is
against the rules to leave a lighted candle here and go away. One of the
dealers, old Mother Palette--you know her, don’t you?--nearly burned the
whole place down the other day. A fowl must have knocked the candle over
into the straw while she was away.”

“A pretty thing, isn’t it,” said Lisa, “for fowls to insist upon having
the chandeliers lighted up every time they take a meal?”

This idea made her laugh. Then she came out of the storeroom, wiping her
feet, and holding up her skirts to keep them from the filth. Marjolin
blew out the candle and locked the door. Lisa felt rather nervous at
finding herself in the dark again with this big young fellow, and so she
hastened on in front.

“I’m glad I came, all the same,” she presently said, as he joined her.
“There is a great deal more under these markets than I ever imagined.
But I must make haste now and get home again. They’ll wonder what has
become of me at the shop. If Monsieur Gavard comes back, tell him that I
want to speak to him immediately.”

“I expect he’s in the killing-room,” said Marjolin. “We’ll go and see,
if you like.”

Lisa made no reply. She felt oppressed by the close atmosphere which
warmed her face. She was quite flushed, and her bodice, generally so
still and lifeless, began to heave. Moreover, the sound of Marjolin’s
hurrying steps behind her filled her with an uneasy feeling. At last she
stepped aside, and let him go on in front. The lanes of this underground
village were still fast asleep. Lisa noticed that her companion was
taking the longest way. When they came out in front of the railway track
he told her that he had wished to show it to her; and they stood for a
moment or two looking through the chinks in the hoarding of heavy beams.
Then Marjolin proposed to take her on to the line; but she refused,
saying that it was not worth while, as she could see things well enough
where she was.

As they returned to the poultry cellars they found old Madame Palette in
front of her storeroom, removing the cords of a large square hamper, in
which a furious fluttering of wings and scraping of feet could be heard.
As she unfastened the last knot the lid suddenly flew open, as though
shot up by a spring, and some big geese thrust out their heads and
necks. Then, in wild alarm, they sprang from their prison and rushed
away, craning their necks, and filling the dark cellars with a frightful
noise of hissing and clattering of beaks. Lisa could not help laughing,
in spite of the lamentations of the old woman, who swore like a carter
as she caught hold of two of the absconding birds and dragged them back
by the neck. Marjolin, meantime, set off in pursuit of a third. They
could hear him running along the narrow alleys, hunting for the runaway,
and delighting in the chase. Then, far off in the distance, they heard
the sounds of a struggle, and presently Marjolin came back again,
bringing the goose with him. Mother Palette, a sallow-faced old woman,
took it in her arms and clasped it for a moment to her bosom, in the
classic attitude of Leda.

“Well, well, I’m sure I don’t know what I should have done if you hadn’t
been here,” said she. “The other day I had a regular fight with one of
the brutes; but I had my knife with me, and I cut its throat.”

Marjolin was quite out of breath. When they reached the stone blocks
where the poultry were killed, and where the gas burnt more brightly,
Lisa could see that he was perspiring, and had bold, glistening eyes.
She thought he looked very handsome like that, with his broad shoulders,
big flushed face, and fair curly hair, and she looked at him so
complacently, with that air of admiration which women feel they may
safely express for quite young lads, that he relapsed into timid
bashfulness again.

“Well, Monsieur Gavard isn’t here, you see,” she said. “You’ve only made
me waste my time.”

Marjolin, however, began rapidly explaining the killing of the poultry
to her. Five huge stone slabs stretched out in the direction of the Rue
Rambuteau under the yellow light of the gas jets. A woman was killing
fowls at one end; and this led him to tell Lisa that the birds were
plucked almost before they were dead, the operation thus being much
easier. Then he wanted her to feel the feathers which were lying in
heaps on the stone slabs; and told her that they were sorted and sold
for as much as nine sous the pound, according to their quality. To
satisfy him, she was also obliged to plunge her hand into the big
hampers full of down. Then he turned the water-taps, of which there was
one by every pillar. There was no end to the particulars he gave. The
blood, he said, streamed along the stone blocks, and collected into
pools on the paved floor, which attendants sluiced with water every two
hours, removing the more recent stains with coarse brushes.

When Lisa stooped over the drain which carries away the swillings,
Marjolin found a fresh text for talk. On rainy days, said he, the water
sometimes rose through this orifice and flooded the place. It had
once risen a foot high; and they had been obliged to transport all the
poultry to the other end of the cellar, which is on a higher level.
He laughed as he recalled the wild flutter of the terrified creatures.
However, he had now finished, and it seemed as though there remained
nothing else for him to show, when all at once he bethought himself of
the ventilator. Thereupon he took Lisa off to the far end of the cellar,
and told her to look up; and inside one of the turrets at the corner
angles of the pavilion she observed a sort of escape-pipe, by which the
foul atmosphere of the storerooms ascended into space.

Here, in this corner, reeking with abominable odours, Marjolin’s
nostrils quivered, and his breath came and went violently. His long
stroll with Lisa in these cellars, full of warm animal perfumes, had
gradually intoxicated him.

She had again turned towards him. “Well,” said she, “it was very kind of
you to show me all this, and when you come to the shop I will give you

Whilst speaking she took hold of his soft chin, as she often did,
without recognising that he was no longer a child; and perhaps she
allowed her hand to linger there a little longer than was her wont. At
all events, Marjolin, usually so bashful, was thrilled by the caress,
and all at once he impetuously sprang forward, clasped Lisa by the
shoulders, and pressed his lips to her soft cheeks. She raised no
cry, but turned very pale at this sudden attack, which showed her how
imprudent she had been. And then, freeing herself from the embrace, she
raised her arm, as she had seen men do in slaughter houses, clenched
her comely fist, and knocked Marjolin down with a single blow, planted
straight between his eyes; and as he fell his head came into collision
with one of the stone slabs, and was split open. Just at that moment the
hoarse and prolonged crowing of a cock sounded through the gloom.

Handsome Lisa, however, remained perfectly cool. Her lips were tightly
compressed, and her bosom had recovered its wonted immobility. Up
above she could hear the heavy rumbling of the markets, and through the
vent-holes alongside the Rue Rambuteau the noise of the street traffic
made its way into the oppressive silence of the cellar. Lisa reflected
that her own strong arm had saved her; and then, fearing lest some
one should come and find her there, she hastened off, without giving a
glance at Marjolin. As she climbed the steps, after passing through the
grated entrance of the cellars, the daylight brought her great relief.

She returned to the shop, quite calm, and only looking a little pale.

“You’ve been a long time,” Quenu said to her.

“I can’t find Gavard. I have looked for him everywhere,” she quietly
replied. “We shall have to eat our leg of mutton without him.”

Then she filled the lard pot, which she noticed was empty; and cut some
pork chops for her friend Madame Taboureau, who had sent her little
servant for them. The blows which she dealt with her cleaver reminded
her of Marjolin. She felt that she had nothing to reproach herself with.
She had acted like an honest woman. She was not going to disturb her
peace of mind; she was too happy to do anything to compromise herself.
However, she glanced at Quenu, whose neck was coarse and ruddy, and
whose shaven chin looked as rough as knotted wood; whereas Marjolin’s
chin and neck resembled rosy satin. But then she must not think of him
any more, for he was no longer a child. She regretted it, and could not
help thinking that children grew up much too quickly.

A slight flush came back to her cheeks, and Quenu considered that she
looked wonderfully blooming. He came and sat down beside her at the
counter for a moment or two. “You ought to go out oftener,” said he; “it
does you good. We’ll go to the theatre together one of these nights, if
you like; to the Gaite, eh? Madame Taboureau has been to see the piece
they are playing there, and she declares it’s splendid.”

Lisa smiled, and said they would see about it, and then once more she
took herself off. Quenu thought that it was too good of her to take so
much trouble in running about after that brute Gavard. In point of fact,
however, she had simply gone upstairs to Florent’s bedroom, the key
of which was hanging from a nail in the kitchen. She hoped to find out
something or other by an inspection of this room, since the poultry
dealer had failed her. She went slowly round it, examining the bed, the
mantelpiece, and every corner. The window with the little balcony was
open, and the budding pomegranate was steeped in the golden beams of the
setting sun. The room looked to her as though Augustine had never left
it--had slept there only the night before. There seemed to be nothing
masculine about the place. She was quite surprised, for she had expected
to find some suspicious-looking chests, and coffers with strong locks.
She went to feel Augustine’s summer gown, which was still hanging
against the wall. Then she sat down at the table, and began to read an
unfinished page of manuscript, in which the word “revolution” occurred
twice. This alarmed her, and she opened the drawer, which she saw was
full of papers. But her sense of honour awoke within her in presence of
the secret which the rickety deal table so badly guarded. She remained
bending over the papers, trying to understand them without touching
them, in a state of great emotion, when the shrill song of the
chaffinch, on whose cage streamed a ray of sunshine, made her start. She
closed the drawer. It was a base thing that she had contemplated, she

Then, as she lingered by the window, reflecting that she ought to go
and ask counsel of Abbe Roustan, who was a very sensible man, she saw a
crowd of people round a stretcher in the market square below. The night
was falling, still she distinctly recognised Cadine weeping in the midst
of the crowd; while Florent and Claude, whose boots were white with
dust, stood together talking earnestly at the edge of the footway.
She hurried downstairs again, surprised to see them back so soon, and
scarcely had she reached her counter when Mademoiselle Saget entered the

“They have found that scamp of a Marjolin in the cellar, with his head
split open,” exclaimed the old maid. “Won’t you come to see him, Madame

Lisa crossed the road to look at him. The young fellow was lying on his
back on the stretcher, looking very pale. His eyes were closed, and
a stiff wisp of his fair hair was clotted with blood. The bystanders,
however, declared that there was no serious harm done, and, besides, the
scamp had only himself to blame, for he was always playing all sorts of
wild pranks in the cellars. It was generally supposed that he had
been trying to jump over one of the stone blocks--one of his favourite
amusements--and had fallen with his head against the slab.

“I dare say that hussy there gave him a shove,” remarked Mademoiselle
Saget, pointing to Cadine, who was weeping. “They are always larking

Meantime the fresh air had restored Marjolin to consciousness, and he
opened his eyes in wide astonishment. He looked round at everybody, and
then, observing Lisa bending over him, he gently smiled at her with
an expression of mingled humility and affection. He seemed to have
forgotten all that had happened. Lisa, feeling relieved, said that he
ought to be taken to the hospital at once, and promised to go and see
him there, and take him some oranges and biscuits. However, Marjolin’s
head had fallen back, and when the stretcher was carried away Cadine
followed it, with her flat basket slung round her neck, and her hot
tears rolling down upon the bunches of violets in their mossy bed. She
certainly had no thoughts for the flowers that she was thus scalding
with her bitter grief.

As Lisa went back to her shop, she heard Claude say, as he shook hands
with Florent and parted from him: “Ah! the confounded young scamp! He’s
quite spoiled my day for me! Still, we had a very enjoyable time, didn’t

Claude and Florent had returned both worried and happy, bringing with
them the pleasant freshness of the country air. Madame Francois had
disposed of all her vegetables that morning before daylight; and they
had all three gone to the Golden Compasses, in the Rue Montorgueil, to
get the cart. Here, in the middle of Paris, they found a foretaste of
the country. Behind the Restaurant Philippe, with its frontage of gilt
woodwork rising to the first floor, there was a yard like that of a
farm, dirty, teeming with life, reeking with the odour of manure
and straw. Bands of fowls were pecking at the soft ground. Sheds and
staircases and galleries of greeny wood clung to the old houses around,
and at the far end, in a shanty of big beams, was Balthazar, harnessed
to the cart, and eating the oats in his nosebag. He went down the Rue
Montorgueil at a slow trot, seemingly well pleased to return to Nanterre
so soon. However, he was not going home without a load. Madame Francois
had a contract with the company which undertook the scavenging of the
markets, and twice a week she carried off with her a load of leaves,
forked up from the mass of refuse which littered the square. It made
excellent manure. In a few minutes the cart was filled to overflowing.
Claude and Florent stretched themselves out on the deep bed of greenery;
Madame Francois grasped her reins, and Balthazar went off at his slow,
steady pace, his head somewhat bent by reason of there being so many
passengers to pull along.

This excursion had been talked of for a long time past. Madame Francois
laughed cheerily. She was partial to the two men, and promised them
an _omelette au lard_ as had never been eaten, said she, in “that
villainous Paris.” Florent and Claude revelled in the thought of this
day of lounging idleness which as yet had scarcely begun to dawn.
Nanterre seemed to be some distant paradise into which they would
presently enter.

“Are you quite comfortable?” Madame Francois asked as the cart turned
into the Rue du Pont Neuf.

Claude declared that their couch was as soft as a bridal bed. Lying on
their backs, with their hands crossed under their heads, both men were
looking up at the pale sky from which the stars were vanishing. All
along the Rue de Rivoli they kept unbroken silence, waiting till they
should have got clear of the houses, and listening to the worthy woman
as she chattered to Balthazar: “Take your time, old man,” she said to
him in kindly tones. “We’re in no hurry; we shall be sure to get there
at last.”

On reaching the Champs Elysees, when the artist saw nothing but
tree-tops on either side of him, and the great green mass of the
Tuileries gardens in the distance, he woke up, as it were, and began to
talk. When the cart had passed the end of the Rue du Roule he had caught
a glimpse of the side entrance of Saint Eustache under the giant roofing
of one of the market covered-ways. He was constantly referring to this
view of the church, and tried to give it a symbolical meaning.

“It’s an odd mixture,” he said, “that bit of church framed round by an
avenue of cast iron. The one will kill the other; the iron will slay
the stone, and the time is not very far off. Do you believe in chance,
Florent? For my part, I don’t think that it was any mere chance of
position that set a rose-window of Saint Eustache right in the middle of
the central markets. No; there’s a whole manifesto in it. It is modern
art, realism, naturalism--whatever you like to call it--that has grown
up and dominates ancient art. Don’t you agree with me?”

Then, as Florent still kept silence, Claude continued: “Besides, that
church is a piece of bastard architecture, made up of the dying gasp of
the middle ages, and the first stammering of the Renaissance. Have you
noticed what sort of churches are built nowadays? They resemble all
kinds of things--libraries, observatories, pigeon-cotes, barracks; and
surely no one can imagine that the Deity dwells in such places. The
pious old builders are all dead and gone; and it would be better to
cease erecting those hideous carcasses of stone, in which we have no
belief to enshrine. Since the beginning of the century there has only
been one large original pile of buildings erected in Paris--a pile in
accordance with modern developments--and that’s the central markets. You
hear me, Florent? Ah! they are a fine bit of building, though they but
faintly indicate what we shall see in the twentieth century! And so, you
see, Saint Eustache is done for! It stands there with its rose-windows,
deserted by worshippers, while the markets spread out by its side and
teem with noisy life. Yes! that’s how I understand it all, my friend.”

“Ah! Monsieur Claude,” said Madame Francois, laughing, “the woman who
cut your tongue-string certainly earned her money. Look at Balthazar
laying his ears back to listen to you. Come, come, get along,

The cart was slowly making its way up the incline. At this early hour of
the morning the avenue, with its double lines of iron chairs on either
pathway, and its lawns, dotted with flowerbeds and clumps of shrubbery,
stretching away under the blue shadows of the trees, was quite deserted;
however, at the Rond-Point a lady and gentleman on horseback passed the
cart at a gentle trot. Florent, who had made himself a pillow with
a bundle of cabbage-leaves, was still gazing at the sky, in which a
far-stretching rosy glow was appearing. Every now and then he would
close his eyes, the better to enjoy the fresh breeze of the morning
as it fanned his face. He was so happy to escape from the markets, and
travel on through the pure air, that he remained speechless, and did not
even listen to what was being said around him.

“And then, too, what fine jokers are those fellows who imprison art in a
toy-box!” resumed Claude, after a pause. “They are always repeating the
same idiotic words: ‘You can’t create art out of science,’ says one;
‘Mechanical appliances kill poetry,’ says another; and a pack of fools
wail over the fate of the flowers, as though anybody wished the flowers
any harm! I’m sick of all such twaddle; I should like to answer all that
snivelling with some work of open defiance. I should take a pleasure in
shocking those good people. Shall I tell you what was the finest thing
I ever produced since I first began to work, and the one which I recall
with the greatest pleasure? It’s quite a story. When I was at my
Aunt Lisa’s on Christmas Eve last year that idiot of an Auguste, the
assistant, was setting out the shop-window. Well, he quite irritated
me by the weak, spiritless way in which he arranged the display; and at
last I requested him to take himself off, saying that I would group
the things myself in a proper manner. You see, I had plenty of bright
colours to work with--the red of the tongues, the yellow of the hams,
the blue of the paper shavings, the rosy pink of the things that had
been cut into, the green of the sprigs of heath, and the black of the
black-puddings--ah! a magnificent black, which I have never managed to
produce on my palette. And naturally, the _crepine_, the small sausages,
the chitterlings, and the crumbed trotters provided me with delicate
greys and browns. I produced a perfect work of art. I took the dishes,
the plates, the pans, and the jars, and arranged the different colours;
and I devised a wonderful picture of still life, with subtle scales of
tints leading up to brilliant flashes of colour. The red tongues seemed
to thrust themselves out like greedy flames, and the black-puddings,
surrounded by pale sausages, suggested a dark night fraught with
terrible indigestion. I had produced, you see, a picture symbolical of
the gluttony of Christmas Eve, when people meet and sup--the midnight
feasting, the ravenous gorging of stomachs void and faint after all the
singing of hymns.[*] At the top of everything a huge turkey exhibited
its white breast, marbled blackly by the truffles showing through its
skin. It was something barbaric and superb, suggesting a paunch amidst
a halo of glory; but there was such a cutting, sarcastic touch about it
all that people crowded to the window, alarmed by the fierce flare of
the shop-front. When my aunt Lisa came back from the kitchen she was
quite frightened, and thought I’d set the fat in the shop on fire;
and she considered the appearance of the turkey so indelicate that she
turned me out of the place while Auguste re-arranged the window after
his own idiotic fashion. Such brutes will never understand the language
of a red splotch by the side of a grey one. Ah, well! that was my
masterpiece. I have never done anything better.”

     [*] An allusion to the “midnight mass” usually celebrated in
     Roman Catholic churches on Christmas Eve.--Translator.

He relapsed into silence, smiling and dwelling with gratification on
this reminiscence. The cart had now reached the Arc de Triomphe, and
strong currents of air swept from the avenues across the expanse of open
ground. Florent sat up, and inhaled with zest the first odours of grass
wafted from the fortifications. He turned his back on Paris, anxious
to behold the country in the distance. At the corner of the Rue de
Longchamp, Madame Francois pointed out to him the spot where she had
picked him up. This rendered him thoughtful, and he gazed at her as
she sat there, so healthy-looking and serene, with her arms slightly
extended so as to grasp the reins. She looked even handsomer than Lisa,
with her neckerchief tied over her head, her robust glow of health, and
her brusque, kindly air. When she gave a slight cluck with her tongue,
Balthazar pricked up his ears and rattled down the road at a quicker

On arriving at Nanterre, the cart turned to the left into a narrow lane,
skirted some blank walls, and finally came to a standstill at the end of
a sort of blind alley. It was the end of the world, Madame Francois used
to say. The load of vegetable leaves now had to be discharged. Claude
and Florent would not hear of the journeyman gardener, who was planting
lettuces, leaving his work, but armed themselves with pitchforks and
proceeded to toss the leaves into the manure pit. This occupation
afforded them much amusement. Claude had quite a liking for manure,
since it symbolises the world and its life. The strippings and parings
of the vegetables, the scourings of the markets, the refuse that fell
from that colossal table, remained full of life, and returned to the
spot where the vegetables had previously sprouted, to warm and nourish
fresh generations of cabbages, turnips, and carrots. They rose again
in fertile crops, and once more went to spread themselves out upon the
market square. Paris rotted everything, and returned everything to the
soil, which never wearied of repairing the ravages of death.

“Ah!” exclaimed Claude, as he plied his fork for the last time, “here’s
a cabbage-stalk that I’m sure I recognise. It has grown up at least half
a score of times in that corner yonder by the apricot tree.”

This remark made Florent laugh. But he soon became grave again, and
strolled slowly through the kitchen garden, while Claude made a sketch
of the stable, and Madame Francois got breakfast ready. The kitchen
garden was a long strip of ground, divided in the middle by a narrow
path; it rose slightly, and at the top end, on raising the head, you
could perceive the low barracks of Mont Valerien. Green hedges separated
it from other plots of land, and these lofty walls of hawthorn fringed
the horizon with a curtain of greenery in such wise that of all the
surrounding country Mont Valerien alone seemed to rise inquisitively
on tip-toe in order to peer into Madame Francois’s close. Great
peacefulness came from the countryside which could not be seen. Along
the kitchen garden, between the four hedges, the May sun shone with
a languid heat, a silence disturbed only by the buzzing of insects,
a somnolence suggestive of painless parturition. Every now and then a
faint cracking sound, a soft sigh, made one fancy that one could hear
the vegetables sprout into being. The patches of spinach and sorrel,
the borders of radishes, carrots, and turnips, the beds of potatoes
and cabbages, spread out in even regularity, displaying their dark
leaf-mould between their tufts of greenery. Farther away, the trenched
lettuces, onions, leeks, and celery, planted by line in long straight
rows, looked like soldiers on parade; while the peas and beans were
beginning to twine their slender tendrils round a forest of sticks,
which, when June came, they would transform into a thick and verdant
wood. There was not a weed to be seen. The garden resembled two parallel
strips of carpet of a geometrical pattern of green on a reddish ground,
which were carefully swept every morning. Borders of thyme grew like
greyish fringe along each side of the pathway.

Florent paced backwards and forwards amidst the perfume of the thyme,
which the sun was warming. He felt profoundly happy in the peacefulness
and cleanliness of the garden. For nearly a year past he had only seen
vegetables bruised and crushed by the jolting of the market-carts;
vegetables torn up on the previous evening, and still bleeding. He
rejoiced to find them at home, in peace in the dark mould, and sound in
every part. The cabbages had a bulky, prosperous appearance; the carrots
looked bright and gay; and the lettuces lounged in line with an air of
careless indolence. And as he looked at them all, the markets which he
had left behind him that morning seemed to him like a vast mortuary,
an abode of death, where only corpses could be found, a charnel-house
reeking with foul smells and putrefaction. He slackened his steps, and
rested in that kitchen garden, as after a long perambulation amidst
deafening noises and repulsive odours. The uproar and the sickening
humidity of the fish market had departed from him; and he felt as though
he were being born anew in the pure fresh air. Claude was right, he
thought. The markets were a sphere of death. The soil was the life, the
eternal cradle, the health of the world.

“The omelet’s ready!” suddenly cried Madame Francois.

When they were all three seated round the table in the kitchen, with
the door thrown open to the sunshine, they ate their breakfast with
such light-hearted gaiety that Madame Francois looked at Florent in
amazement, repeating between each mouthful: “You’re quite altered.
You’re ten years younger. It is that villainous Paris which makes you
seem so gloomy. You’ve got a little sunshine in your eyes now. Ah! those
big towns do one’s health no good, you ought to come and live here.”

Claude laughed, and retorted that Paris was a glorious place. He stuck
up for it and all that belonged to it, even to its gutters; though at
the same time retaining a keen affection for the country.

In the afternoon Madame Francois and Florent found themselves alone
at the end of the garden, in a corner planted with a few fruit trees.
Seated on the ground, they talked somewhat seriously together. The good
woman advised Florent with an affectionate and quite maternal kindness.
She asked him endless questions about his life, and his intentions for
the future, and begged him to remember that he might always count
upon her, if ever he thought that she could in the slightest degree
contribute to his happiness. Florent was deeply touched. No woman had
ever spoken to him in that way before. Madame Francois seemed to him
like some healthy, robust plant that had grown up with the vegetables
in the leaf-mould of the garden; while the Lisas, the Normans, and
other pretty women of the markets appeared to him like flesh of doubtful
freshness decked out for exhibition. He here enjoyed several hours of
perfect well-being, delivered from all that reek of food which sickened
him in the markets, and reviving to new life amidst the fertile
atmosphere of the country, like that cabbage stalk which Claude declared
he had seen sprout up more than half a score of times.

The two men took leave of Madame Francois at about five o’clock. They
had decided to walk back to Paris; and the market gardener accompanied
them into the lane. As she bade good-bye to Florent, she kept his hand
in her own for a moment, and said gently: “If ever anything happens to
trouble you, remember to come to me.”

For a quarter of an hour Florent walked on without speaking, already
getting gloomy again, and reflecting that he was leaving health behind
him. The road to Courbevoie was white with dust. However, both men were
fond of long walks and the ringing of stout boots on the hard ground.
Little clouds of dust rose up behind their heels at every step,
while the rays of the sinking sun darted obliquely over the avenue,
lengthening their shadows in such wise that their heads reached the
other side of the road, and journeyed along the opposite footway.

Claude, swinging his arms, and taking long, regular strides,
complacently watched these two shadows, whilst enjoying the rhythmical
cadence of his steps, which he accentuated by a motion of his shoulders.
Presently, however, as though just awaking from a dream, he exclaimed:
“Do you know the ‘Battle of the Fat and the Thin’?”

Florent, surprised by the question, replied in the negative; and
thereupon Claude waxed enthusiastic, talking of that series of prints
in very eulogical fashion. He mentioned certain incidents: the Fat, so
swollen that they almost burst, preparing their evening debauch, while
the Thin, bent double by fasting, looked in from the street with the
appearance of envious laths; and then, again, the Fat, with hanging
cheeks, driving off one of the Thin, who had been audacious enough to
introduce himself into their midst in lowly humility, and who looked
like a ninepin amongst a population of balls.

In these designs Claude detected the entire drama of human life, and he
ended by classifying men into Fat and Thin, two hostile groups, one of
which devours the other, and grows fat and sleek and enjoys itself.

“Cain,” said he, “was certainly one of the Fat, and Abel one of the
Thin. Ever since that first murder, there have been rampant appetites
which have drained the life-blood of small eaters. It’s a continual
preying of the stronger upon the weaker; each swallowing his neighbour,
and then getting swallowed in his turn. Beware of the Fat, my friend.”

He relapsed into silence for a moment, still watching their two shadows,
which the setting sun elongated more than ever. Then he murmured: “You
see, we belong to the Thin--you and I. Those who are no more corpulent
than we are don’t take up much room in the sunlight, eh?”

Florent glanced at the two shadows, and smiled. But Claude waxed angry,
and exclaimed: “You make a mistake if you think it is a laughing matter.
For my own part, I greatly suffer from being one of the Thin. If I were
one of the Fat, I could paint at my ease; I should have a fine studio,
and sell my pictures for their weight in gold. But, instead of that,
I’m one of the Thin; and I have to grind my life out in producing things
which simply make the Fat ones shrug their shoulders. I shall die of it
all in the end, I’m sure of it, with my skin clinging to my bones, and
so flattened that they will be able to bury me between two leaves of a
book. And you, too, you are one of the Thin, a wonderful one; the very
king of Thin, in fact! Do you remember your quarrel with the fish-wives?
It was magnificent; all those colossal bosoms flying at your scraggy
breast! Oh! they were simply acting from natural instinct; they were
pursuing one of the Thin just as cats pursue a mouse. The Fat, you know,
have an instinctive hatred of the Thin, to such an extent that they must
needs drive the latter from their sight, either by means of their teeth
or their feet. And that is why, if I were in your place, I should take
my precautions. The Quenus belong to the Fat, and so do the Mehudins;
indeed, you have none but Fat ones around you. I should feel uneasy
under such circumstances.”

“And what about Gavard, and Mademoiselle Saget, and your friend
Marjolin?” asked Florent, still smiling.

“Oh, if you like, I will classify all our acquaintances for you,”
 replied Claude. “I’ve had their heads in a portfolio in my studio for a
long time past, with memoranda of the order to which they belong. Gavard
is one of the Fat, but of the kind which pretends to belong to the
Thin. The variety is by no means uncommon. Mademoiselle Saget and
Madame Lecoeur belong to the Thin, but to a variety which is much to be
feared--the Thin ones whom envy drives to despair, and who are capable
of anything in their craving to fatten themselves. My friend Marjolin,
little Cadine, and La Sarriette are three Fat ones, still innocent,
however, and having nothing but the guileless hunger of youth. I may
remark that the Fat, so long as they’ve not grown old, are charming
creatures. Monsieur Lebigre is one of the Fat--don’t you think so? As
for your political friends, Charvet, Clemence, Logre, and Lacaille, they
mostly belong to the Thin. I only except that big animal Alexandre, and
that prodigy Robine, who has caused me a vast amount of annoyance.”

The artist continued to talk in this strain from the Pont de Neuilly to
the Arc de Triomphe. He returned to some of those whom he had already
mentioned, and completed their portraits with a few characteristic
touches. Logre, he said, was one of the Thin whose belly had been placed
between his shoulders. Beautiful Lisa was all stomach, and the beautiful
Norman all bosom. Mademoiselle Saget, in her earlier life, must have
certainly lost some opportunity to fatten herself, for she detested the
Fat, while, at the same time, she despised the Thin. As for Gavard,
he was compromising his position as one of the Fat, and would end by
becoming as flat as a bug.

“And what about Madame Francois?” Florent asked.

Claude seemed much embarrassed by this question. He cast about for an
answer, and at last stammered:

“Madame Francois, Madame Francois--well, no, I really don’t know; I
never thought about classifying her. But she’s a dear good soul, and
that’s quite sufficient. She’s neither one of the Fat nor one of the

They both laughed. They were now in front of the Arc de Triomphe. The
sun, over by the hills of Suresnes, was so low on the horizon that their
colossal shadows streaked the whiteness of the great structure even
above the huge groups of statuary, like strokes made with a piece of
charcoal. This increased Claude’s merriment, he waved his arms and bent
his body; and then, as he started on his way again, he said; “Did you
notice--just as the sun set our two heads shot up to the sky!”

But Florent no longer smiled. Paris was grasping him again, that Paris
which now frightened him so much, after having cost him so many tears at
Cayenne. When he reached the markets night was falling, and there was
a suffocating smell. He bent his head as he once more returned to
the nightmare of endless food, whilst preserving the sweet yet sad
recollection of that day of bright health odorous with the perfume of


At about four o’clock on the afternoon of the following day Lisa betook
herself to Saint Eustache. For the short walk across the square she had
arrayed herself very seriously in a black silk gown and thick woollen
shawl. The handsome Norman, who, from her stall in the fish market,
watched her till she vanished into the church porch, was quite amazed.

“Hallo! So the fat thing’s gone in for priests now, has she?” she
exclaimed, with a sneer. “Well, a little holy water may do her good!”

She was mistaken in her surmises, however, for Lisa was not a devotee.
She did not observe the ordinances of the Church, but said that she
did her best to lead an honest life, and that this was all that was
necessary. At the same time, however, she disliked to hear religion
spoken ill of, and often silenced Gavard, who delighted in scandalous
stories of priests and their doings. Talk of that sort seemed to her
altogether improper. Everyone, in her opinion, should be allowed to
believe as they pleased, and every scruple should be respected. Besides,
the majority of the clergy were most estimable men. She knew Abbe
Roustan, of Saint Eustache--a distinguished priest, a man of shrewd
sense, and one, she thought, whose friendship might be safely relied
upon. And she would wind up by explaining that religion was absolutely
necessary for the people; she looked upon it as a sort of police force
that helped to maintain order, and without which no government would be
possible. When Gavard went too far on this subject and asserted that the
priests ought to be turned into the streets and have their shops shut
up, Lisa, shrugged her shoulders and replied: “A great deal of good that
would do! Why, before a month was over the people would be murdering
one another in the streets, and you would be compelled to invent another
God. That was just what happened in ‘93. You know very well that I’m not
given to mixing with the priests, but for all that I say that they are
necessary, as we couldn’t do without them.”

And so when Lisa happened to enter a church she always manifested
the utmost decorum. She had bought a handsome missal, which she never
opened, for use when she was invited to a funeral or a wedding. She
knelt and rose at the proper times, and made a point of conducting
herself with all propriety. She assumed, indeed, what she considered a
sort of official demeanour, such as all well-to-do folks, tradespeople,
and house-owners ought to observe with regard to religion.

As she entered Saint Eustache that afternoon she let the double doors,
covered with green baize, faded and worn by the frequent touch of pious
hands, close gently behind her. Then she dipped her fingers in the holy
water and crossed herself in the correct fashion. And afterwards, with
hushed footsteps, she made her way to the chapel of Saint Agnes, where
two kneeling women with their faces buried in their hands were waiting,
whilst the blue skirts of a third protruded from the confessional. Lisa
seemed rather put out by the sight of these women, and, addressing a
verger who happened to pass along, wearing a black skullcap and
dragging his feet over the slabs, she inquired: “Is this Monsieur l’Abbe
Roustan’s day for hearing confessions?”

The verger replied that his reverence had only two more penitents
waiting, and that they would not detain him long, so that if Lisa would
take a chair her turn would speedily come. She thanked him, without
telling him that she had not come to confess; and, making up her mind to
wait, she began to pace the church, going as far as the chief entrance,
whence she gazed at the lofty, severe, bare nave stretching between the
brightly coloured aisles. Raising her head a little, she examined the
high altar, which she considered too plain, having no taste for the cold
grandeur of stonework, but preferring the gilding and gaudy colouring of
the side chapels. Those on the side of the Rue du Jour looked greyish in
the light which filtered through their dusty windows, but on the side
of the markets the sunset was lighting up the stained glass with lovely
tints, limpid greens and yellows in particular, which reminded Lisa of
the bottle of liqueurs in front of Monsieur Lebigre’s mirror. She came
back by this side, which seemed to be warmed by the glow of light,
and took a passing interest in the reliquaries, altar ornaments, and
paintings steeped in prismatic reflections. The church was empty,
quivering with the silence that fell from its vaulted roofing. Here and
there a woman’s dress showed like a dark splotch amidst the vague yellow
of the chairs; and a low buzzing came from the closed confessionals. As
Lisa again passed the chapel of Saint Agnes she saw the blue dress still
kneeling at Abbe Roustan’s feet.

“Why, if I’d wanted to confess I could have said everything in ten
seconds,” she thought, proud of her irreproachable integrity.

Then she went on to the end of the church. Behind the high altar, in the
gloom of a double row of pillars, is the chapel of the Blessed Virgin,
damp and dark and silent. The dim stained windows only show the flowing
crimson and violet robes of saints, which blaze like flames of mystic
love in the solemn, silent adoration of the darkness. It is a weird,
mysterious spot, like some crepuscular nook of paradise solely illumined
by the gleaming stars of two tapers. The four brass lamps hanging from
the roof remain unlighted, and are but faintly seen; on espying them you
think of the golden censers which the angels swing before the throne of
Mary. And kneeling on the chairs between the pillars there are always
women surrendering themselves languorously to the dim spot’s voluptuous

Lisa stood and gazed tranquilly around her. She did not feel the least
emotion, but considered that it was a mistake not to light the lamps.
Their brightness would have given the place a more cheerful look. The
gloom even struck her as savouring of impropriety. Her face was warmed
by the flames of some candles burning in a candelabrum by her side, and
an old woman armed with a big knife was scraping off the wax which had
trickled down and congealed into pale tears. And amidst the quivering
silence, the mute ecstasy of adoration prevailing in the chapel, Lisa
would distinctly hear the rumbling of the vehicles turning out of the
Rue Montmartre, behind the scarlet and purple saints on the windows,
whilst in the distance the markets roared without a moment’s pause.

Just as Lisa was leaving the chapel, she saw the younger of the
Mehudins, Claire, the dealer in fresh water fish, come in. The girl
lighted a taper at the candelabrum, and then went to kneel behind a
pillar, her knees pressed upon the hard stones, and her face so pale
beneath her loose fair hair that she seemed a corpse. And believing
herself to be securely screened from observation, she gave way to
violent emotion, and wept hot tears with a passionate outpouring of
prayer which bent her like a rushing wind. Lisa looked on in amazement,
for the Mehudins were not known to be particularly pious; indeed, Claire
was accustomed to speak of religion and priests in such terms as to
horrify one.

“What’s the meaning of this, I wonder?” pondered Lisa, as she again
made her way to the chapel of Saint Agnes. “The hussy must have been
poisoning some one or other.”

Abbe Roustan was at last coming out of his confessional. He was a
handsome man, of some forty years of age, with a smiling, kindly air.
When he recognised Madame Quenu he grasped her hand, called her “dear
lady,” and conducted her to the vestry, where, taking off his surplice,
he told her that he would be entirely at her service in a moment. They
returned, the priest in his cassock, bareheaded, and Lisa strutting
along in her shawl, and paced up and down in front of the side-chapels
adjacent to the Rue du Jour. They conversed together in low tones. The
sunlight was departing from the stained windows, the church was growing
dark, and the retreating footsteps of the last worshippers sounded but
faintly over the flagstones.

Lisa explained her doubts and scruples to Abbe Roustan. There had never
been any question of religion between them; she never confessed, but
merely consulted him in cases of difficulty, because he was shrewd
and discreet, and she preferred him, as she sometimes said, to shady
business men redolent of the galleys. The abbe, on his side, manifested
inexhaustible complaisance. He looked up points of law for her in
the Code, pointed out profitable investments, resolved her moral
difficulties with great tact, recommended tradespeople to her,
invariably having an answer ready however diverse and complicated
her requirements might be. And he supplied all this help in a natural
matter-of-fact way, without ever introducing the Deity into his talk,
or seeking to obtain any advantage either for himself or the cause of
religion. A word of thanks and a smile sufficed him. He seemed glad to
have an opportunity of obliging the handsome Madame Quenu, of whom his
housekeeper often spoke to him in terms of praise, as of a woman who was
highly respected in the neighbourhood.

Their consultation that afternoon was of a peculiarly delicate nature.
Lisa was anxious to know what steps she might legitimately take, as a
woman of honour, with respect to her brother-in-law. Had she a right
to keep a watch upon him, and to do what she could to prevent him from
compromising her husband, her daughter, and herself? And then how far
might she go in circumstances of pressing danger? She did not bluntly
put these questions to the abbe, but asked them with such skilful
circumlocutions that he was able to discuss the matter without entering
into personalities. He brought forward arguments on both sides of the
question, but the conclusion he came to was that a person of integrity
was entitled, indeed bound, to prevent evil, and was justified in using
whatever means might be necessary to ensure the triumph of that which
was right and proper.

“That is my opinion, dear lady,” he said in conclusion. “The question
of means is always a very grave one. It is a snare in which souls
of average virtue often become entangled. But I know your scrupulous
conscience. Deliberate carefully over each step you think of taking, and
if it contains nothing repugnant to you, go on boldly. Pure natures have
the marvelous gift of purifying all that they touch.”

Then, changing his tone of voice, he continued: “Pray give my kind
regards to Monsieur Quenu. I’ll come in to kiss my dear little Pauline
some time when I’m passing. And now good-bye, dear lady; remember that
I’m always at your service.”

Thereupon he returned to the vestry. Lisa, on her way out, was curious
to see if Claire was still praying, but the girl had gone back to
her eels and carp; and in front of the Lady-chapel, which was already
shrouded in darkness, there was now but a litter of chairs overturned by
the ardent vehemence of the woman who had knelt there.

When the handsome Lisa again crossed the square, La Normande, who
had been watching for her exit from the church, recognised her in the
twilight by the rotundity of her skirts.

“Good gracious!” she exclaimed, “she’s been more than an hour in there!
When the priests set about cleansing her of her sins, the choir-boys
have to form in line to pass the buckets of filth and empty them in the

The next morning Lisa went straight up to Florent’s bedroom and settled
herself there with perfect equanimity. She felt certain that she would
not be disturbed, and, moreover, she had made up her mind to tell a
falsehood and say that she had come to see if the linen was clean,
should Florent by any chance return. Whilst in the shop, however, she
had observed him busily engaged in the fish market. Seating herself in
front of the little table, she pulled out the drawer, placed it upon her
knees, and began to examine its contents, taking the greatest care to
restore them to their original positions.

First of all she came upon the opening chapters of the work on Cayenne;
then upon the drafts of Florent’s various plans and projects, his
schemes for converting the Octroi duties into taxes upon sales, for
reforming the administrative system of the markets, and all the others.
These pages of small writing, which she set herself to read, bored her
extremely, and she was about to restore the drawer to its place, feeling
convinced that Florent concealed the proofs of his wicked designs
elsewhere, and already contemplating a searching visitation of his
mattress, when she discovered a photograph of La Normande in an
envelope. The impression was rather dark. La Normande was standing up
with her right arm resting on a broken column. Decked out with all
her jewels, and attired in a new silk dress, the fish-girl was smiling
impudently, and Lisa, at the sight, forgot all about her brother-in-law,
her fears, and the purpose for which she had come into the room. She
became quite absorbed in her examination of the portrait, as often
happens when one woman scrutinises the photograph of another at her
ease, without fear of being seen. Never before had she so favourable an
opportunity to study her rival. She scrutinised her hair, her nose, her
mouth; held the photograph at a distance, and then brought it closer
again. And, finally, with compressed lips, she read on the back of it,
in a big, ugly scrawl: “Louise, to her friend, Florent.” This quite
scandalised her; to her mind it was a confession, and she felt a strong
impulse to take possession of the photograph, and keep it as a weapon
against her enemy. However, she slowly replaced it in the envelope on
coming to the conclusion that this course would be wrong, and reflecting
that she would always know where to find it should she want it again.

Then, as she again began turning over the loose sheets of paper, it
occurred to her to look at the back end of the drawer, where Florent had
relegated Augustine’s needles and thread; and there, between the missal
and the Dream-book, she discovered what she sought, some extremely
compromising memoranda, simply screened from observation by a wrapper of
grey paper.

That idea of an insurrection, of the overthrow of the Empire by means
of an armed rising, which Logre had one evening propounded at Monsieur
Lebigre’s, had slowly ripened in Florent’s feverish brain. He soon grew
to see a duty, a mission in it. Therein undoubtedly lay the task to
which his escape from Cayenne and his return to Paris predestined him.
Believing in a call to avenge his leanness upon the city which wallowed
in food while the upholders of right and equity were racked by hunger
in exile, he took upon himself the duties of a justiciary, and dreamt of
rising up, even in the midst of those markets, to sweep away the reign
of gluttony and drunkenness. In a sensitive nature like his, this idea
quickly took root. Everything about him assumed exaggerated proportions,
the wildest fancies possessed him. He imagined that the markets had been
conscious of his arrival, and had seized hold of him that they might
enervate him and poison him with their stenches. Then, too, Lisa wanted
to cast a spell over him, and for two or three days at a time he would
avoid her, as though she were some dissolving agency which would destroy
all his power of will should he approach too closely. However, these
paroxysms of puerile fear, these wild surgings of his rebellious brain,
always ended in thrills of the gentlest tenderness, with yearnings to
love and be loved, which he concealed with a boyish shame.

It was more especially in the evening that his mind became blurred by
all his wild imaginings. Depressed by his day’s work, but shunning sleep
from a covert fear--the fear of the annihilation it brought with it--he
would remain later than ever at Monsieur Lebigre’s, or at the Mehudins’;
and on his return home he still refrained from going to bed, and sat
up writing and preparing for the great insurrection. By slow degrees he
devised a complete system of organisation. He divided Paris into twenty
sections, one for each arrondissement. Each section would have a
chief, a sort of general, under whose orders there were to be twenty
lieutenants commanding twenty companies of affiliated associates. Every
week, among the chiefs, there would be a consultation, which was to be
held in a different place each time; and, the better to ensure secrecy
and discretion, the associates would only come in contact with their
respective lieutenants, these alone communicating with the chiefs of the
sections. It also occurred to Florent that it would be as well that the
companies should believe themselves charged with imaginary missions, as
a means of putting the police upon a wrong scent.

As for the employment of the insurrectionary forces, that would be all
simplicity. It would, of course, be necessary to wait till the companies
were quite complete, and then advantage would be taken of the first
public commotion. They would doubtless only have a certain number of
guns used for sporting purposes in their possession, so they would
commence by seizing the police stations and guard-houses, disarming the
soldiers of the line; resorting to violence as little as possible, and
inviting the men to make common cause with the people. Afterwards they
would march upon the Corps Legislatif, and thence to the Hotel de Ville.
This plan, to which Florent returned night after night, as though it
were some dramatic scenario which relieved his over-excited nervous
system, was as yet simply jotted down on scraps of paper, full of
erasures, which showed how the writer had felt his way, and revealed
each successive phase of his scientific yet puerile conception. When
Lisa had glanced through the notes, without understanding some of them,
she remained there trembling with fear; afraid to touch them further
lest they should explode in her hands like live shells.

A last memorandum frightened her more than any of the others. It was
a half sheet of paper on which Florent had sketched the distinguishing
insignia which the chiefs and the lieutenants were to wear. By the
side of these were rough drawings of the standards which the different
companies were to carry; and notes in pencil even described what colours
the banners should assume. The chiefs were to wear red scarves, and the
lieutenants red armlets.

To Lisa this seemed like an immediate realisation of the rising; she saw
all the men with their red badges marching past the pork shop, firing
bullets into her mirrors and marble, and carrying off sausages
and chitterlings from the window. The infamous projects of her
brother-in-law were surely directed against herself--against her own
happiness. She closed the drawer and looked round the room, reflecting
that it was she herself who had provided this man with a home--that he
slept between her sheets and used her furniture. And she was especially
exasperated at his keeping his abominable infernal machine in that
little deal table which she herself had used at Uncle Gradelle’s before
her marriage--a perfectly innocent, rickety little table.

For a while she stood thinking what she should do. In the first place,
it was useless to say anything to Quenu. For a moment it occurred to
her to provoke an explanation with Florent, but she dismissed that idea,
fearing lest he would only go and perpetrate his crime elsewhere, and
maliciously make a point of compromising them. Then gradually growing
somewhat calmer, she came to the conclusion that her best plan would be
to keep a careful watch over her brother-in-law. It would be time enough
to take further steps at the first sign of danger. She already had quite
sufficient evidence to send him back to the galleys.

On returning to the shop again, she found Augustine in a state of
great excitement. Little Pauline had disappeared more than half an
hour before, and to Lisa’s anxious questions the young woman could only
reply: “I don’t know where she can have got to, madame. She was on the
pavement there with a little boy. I was watching them, and then I had to
cut some ham for a gentleman, and I never saw them again.”

“I’ll wager it was Muche!” cried Lisa. “Ah, the young scoundrel!”

It was, indeed, Muche who had enticed Pauline away. The little girl, who
was wearing a new blue-striped frock that day for the first time, had
been anxious to exhibit it, and had accordingly taken her stand outside
the shop, manifesting great propriety of bearing, and compressing her
lips with the grave expression of a little woman of six who is afraid of
soiling her clothes. Her short and stiffly-starched petticoats stood out
like the skirts of a ballet girl, allowing a full view of her tightly
stretched white stockings and little sky-blue boots. Her pinafore,
which hung low about her neck, was finished off at the shoulders with an
edging of embroidery, below which appeared her pretty little arms, bare
and rosy. She had small turquoise rings in her ears, a cross at her
neck, a blue velvet ribbon in her well-brushed hair; and she displayed
all her mother’s plumpness and softness--the gracefulness, indeed, of a
new doll.

Muche had caught sight of her from the market, where he was amusing
himself by dropping little dead fishes into the gutter, following them
along the kerb as the water carried them away, and declaring that they
were swimming. However, the sight of Pauline standing in front of the
shop and looking so smart and pretty made him cross over to her, capless
as he was, with his blouse ragged, his trousers slipping down, and his
whole appearance suggestive of a seven-year-old street-arab. His mother
had certainly forbidden him to play any more with “that fat booby of a
girl who was stuffed by her parents till she almost burst”; so he stood
hesitating for a moment, but at last came up to Pauline, and wanted to
feel her pretty striped frock. The little girl, who had at first felt
flattered, then put on a prim air and stepped back, exclaiming in a tone
of displeasure: “Leave me alone. Mother says I’m not to have anything to
do with you.”

This brought a laugh to the lips of Muche, who was a wily, enterprising
young scamp.

“What a little flat you are!” he retorted. “What does it matter what
your mother says? Let’s go and play at shoving each other, eh?”

He doubtless nourished some wicked idea of dirtying the neat little
girl; but she, on seeing him prepare to give her a push in the back,
retreated as though about to return inside the shop. Muche thereupon
adopted a flattering tone like a born cajoler.

“You silly! I didn’t mean it,” said he. “How nice you look like that! Is
that little cross your mother’s?”

Pauline perked herself up, and replied that it was her own, whereupon
Muche gently led her to the corner of the Rue Pirouette, touching her
skirts the while and expressing his astonishment at their wonderful
stiffness. All this pleased the little girl immensely. She had been very
much vexed at not receiving any notice while she was exhibiting herself
outside the shop. However, in spite of all Muche’s blandishments, she
still refused to leave the footway.

“You stupid fatty!” thereupon exclaimed the youngster, relapsing into
coarseness. “I’ll squat you down in the gutter if you don’t look out,
Miss Fine-airs!”

The girl was dreadfully alarmed. Muche had caught hold of her by
the hand; but, recognising his mistake in policy, he again put on a
wheedling air, and began to fumble in his pocket.

“I’ve got a sou,” said he.

The sight of the coin had a soothing effect upon Pauline. The boy held
up the sou with the tips of his fingers, and the temptation to follow
it proved so great that the girl at last stepped down into the roadway.
Muche’s diplomacy was eminently successful.

“What do you like best?” he asked.

Pauline gave no immediate answer. She could not make up her mind; there
were so many things that she liked. Muche, however, ran over a whole
list of dainties--liquorice, molasses, gum-balls, and powdered sugar.
The powdered sugar made the girl ponder. One dipped one’s fingers into
it and sucked them; it was very nice. For a while she gravely considered
the matter. Then, at last making up her mind, she said:

“No, I like the mixed screws the best.”

Muche thereupon took hold of her arm, and she unresistingly allowed him
to lead her away. They crossed the Rue Rambuteau, followed the broad
footway skirting the markets, and went as far as a grocer’s shop in the
Rue de la Cossonnerie which was celebrated for its mixed screws. These
mixed screws are small screws of paper in which grocers put up all sorts
of damaged odds and ends, broken sugar-plums, fragments of crystallised
chestnuts--all the doubtful residuum of their jars of sweets. Muche
showed himself very gallant, allowed Pauline to choose the screw--a blue
one--paid his sou, and did not attempt to dispossess her of the sweets.
Outside, on the footway, she emptied the miscellaneous collection of
scraps into both pockets of her pinafore; and they were such little
pockets that they were quite filled. Then in delight she began to munch
the fragments one by one, wetting her fingers to catch the fine sugary
dust, with such effect that she melted the scraps of sweets, and the
pockets of her pinafore soon showed two brownish stains. Muche laughed
slily to himself. He had his arm about the girl’s waist, and rumpled her
frock at his ease whilst leading her round the corner of the Rue Pierre
Lescot, in the direction of the Place des Innocents.

“You’ll come and play now, won’t you?” he asked. “That’s nice what
you’ve got in your pockets, ain’t it? You see that I didn’t want to do
you any harm, you big silly!”

Thereupon he plunged his own fingers into her pockets, and they entered
the square together. To this spot, no doubt, he had all along intended
to lure his victim. He did the honours of the square as though it were
his own private property, and indeed it was a favourite haunt of his,
where he often larked about for whole afternoons. Pauline had never
before strayed so far from home, and would have wept like an abducted
damsel had it not been that her pockets were full of sweets. The
fountain in the middle of the flowered lawn was sending sheets of water
down its tiers of basins, whilst, between the pilasters above, Jean
Goujon’s nymphs, looking very white beside the dingy grey stonework,
inclined their urns and displayed their nude graces in the grimy air
of the Saint Denis quarter. The two children walked round the fountain,
watching the water fall into the basins, and taking an interest in the
grass, with thoughts, no doubt, of crossing the central lawn, or gliding
into the clumps of holly and rhododendrons that bordered the railings of
the square. Little Muche, however, who had now effectually rumpled the
back of the pretty frock, said with his sly smile:

“Let’s play at throwing sand at each other, eh?”

Pauline had no will of her own left; and they began to throw the sand at
each other, keeping their eyes closed meanwhile. The sand made its way
in at the neck of the girl’s low bodice, and trickled down into her
stockings and boots. Muche was delighted to see the white pinafore
become quite yellow. But he doubtless considered that it was still far
too clean.

“Let’s go and plant trees, shall we?” he exclaimed suddenly. “I know how
to make such pretty gardens.”

“Really, gardens!” murmured Pauline full of admiration.

Then, as the keeper of the square happened to be absent, Muche told her
to make some holes in one of the borders; and dropping on her knees in
the middle of the soft mould, and leaning forward till she lay at full
length on her stomach, she dug her pretty little arms into the ground.
He, meantime, began to hunt for scraps of wood, and broke off branches.
These were the garden-trees which he planted in the holes that Pauline
made. He invariably complained, however, that the holes were not deep
enough, and rated the girl as though she were an idle workman and he an
indignant master. When she at last got up, she was black from head to
foot. Her hair was full of mould, her face was smeared with it, she
looked such a sight with her arms as black as a coalheaver’s that Muche
clapped his hands with glee, and exclaimed: “Now we must water the
trees. They won’t grow, you know, if we don’t water them.”

That was the finishing stroke. They went outside the square, scooped the
gutter-water up in the palms of their hands, and then ran back to pour
it over the bits of wood. On the way, Pauline, who was so fat that she
couldn’t run properly, let the water trickle between her fingers on to
her frock, so that by the time of her sixth journey she looked as if she
had been rolled in the gutter. Muche chuckled with delight on beholding
her dreadful condition. He made her sit down beside him under a
rhododendron near the garden they had made, and told her that the trees
were already beginning to grow. He had taken hold of her hand and called
her his little wife.

“You’re not sorry now that you came, are you,” he asked, “instead of
mooning about on the pavement, where there was nothing to do? I know all
sorts of fun we can have in the streets; you must come with me again.
You will, won’t you? But you mustn’t say anything to your mother, mind.
If you say a word to her, I’ll pull your hair the next time I come past
your shop.”

Pauline consented to everything; and then, as a last attention, Muche
filled both pockets of her pinafore with mould. However, all the sweets
were finished, and the girl began to get uneasy, and ceased playing.
Muche thereupon started pinching her, and she burst into tears, sobbing
that she wanted to go away. But at this the lad only grinned, and played
the bully, threatening that he would not take her home at all. Then she
grew terribly alarmed, and sobbed and gasped like a maiden in the power
of a libertine. Muche would certainly have ended by punching her in
order to stop her row, had not a shrill voice, the voice of Mademoiselle
Saget, exclaimed, close by: “Why, I declare it’s Pauline! Leave her
alone, you wicked young scoundrel!”

Then the old maid took the girl by the hand, with endless expressions
of amazement at the pitiful condition of her clothes. Muche showed no
alarm, but followed them, chuckling to himself, and declaring that it
was Pauline who had wanted to come with him, and had tumbled down.

Mademoiselle Saget was a regular frequenter of the Square des Innocents.
Every afternoon she would spend a good hour there to keep herself well
posted in the gossip of the common people. On either side there is a
long crescent of benches placed end to end; and on these the poor folks
who stifle in the hovels of the neighbouring narrow streets assemble in
crowds. There are withered, chilly-looking old women in tumbled caps,
and young ones in loose jackets and carelessly fastened skirts, with
bare heads and tired, faded faces, eloquent of the wretchedness of their
lives. There are some men also: tidy old buffers, porters in greasy
jackets, and equivocal-looking individuals in black silk hats, while the
foot-path is overrun by a swarm of youngsters dragging toy carts without
wheels about, filling pails with sand, and screaming and fighting;
a dreadful crew, with ragged clothes and dirty noses, teeming in the
sunshine like vermin.

Mademoiselle Saget was so slight and thin that she always managed to
insinuate herself into a place on one of the benches. She listened to
what was being said, and started a conversation with her neighbour, some
sallow-faced workingman’s wife, who sat mending linen, from time to time
producing handkerchiefs and stockings riddled with holes from a little
basket patched up with string. Moreover, Mademoiselle Saget had
plenty of acquaintances here. Amidst the excruciating squalling of
the children, and the ceaseless rumble of the traffic in the Rue Saint
Denis, she took part in no end of gossip, everlasting tales about the
tradesmen of the neighbourhood, the grocers, the butchers, and the
bakers, enough, indeed, to fill the columns of a local paper, and the
whole envenomed by refusals of credit and covert envy, such as is always
harboured by the poor. From these wretched creatures she also obtained
the most disgusting revelations, the gossip of low lodging-houses and
doorkeepers’ black-holes, all the filthy scandal of the neighbourhood,
which tickled her inquisitive appetite like hot spice.

As she sat with her face turned towards the markets, she had immediately
in front of her the square and its three blocks of houses, into the
windows of which her eyes tried to pry. She seemed to gradually rise
and traverse the successive floors right up to the garret skylights.
She stared at the curtains; based an entire drama on the appearance of
a head between two shutters; and, by simply gazing at the facades, ended
by knowing the history of all the dwellers in these houses. The Baratte
Restaurant, with its wine shop, its gilt wrought-iron _marquise_,
forming a sort of terrace whence peeped the foliage of a few plants in
flower-pots, and its four low storeys, all painted and decorated, had an
especial interest for her. She gazed at its yellow columns standing
out against a background of tender blue, at the whole of its imitation
temple-front daubed on the facade of a decrepit, tumble-down house,
crowned at the summit by a parapet of painted zinc. Behind the
red-striped window-blinds she espied visions of nice little lunches,
delicate suppers, and uproarious, unlimited orgies. And she did not
hesitate to invent lies about the place. It was there, she declared,
that Florent came to gorge with those two hussies, the Mehudins, on whom
he lavished his money.

However, Pauline cried yet louder than before when the old maid took
hold of her hand. Mademoiselle Saget at first led her towards the gate
of the square; but before she got there she seemed to change her mind;
for she sat down at the end of a bench and tried to pacify the child.

“Come, now, give over crying, or the policeman will lock you up,” she
said to Pauline. “I’ll take you home safely. You know me, don’t you? I’m
a good friend. Come, come, let me see how prettily you can smile.”

The child, however, was choking with sobs and wanted to go away.
Mademoiselle Saget thereupon quietly allowed her to continue weeping,
reserving further remarks till she should have finished. The poor little
creature was shivering all over; her petticoats and stockings were
wet through, and as she wiped her tears away with her dirty hands she
plastered the whole of her face with earth to the very tips of her
ears. When at last she became a little calmer the old maid resumed in
a caressing tone: “Your mamma isn’t unkind, is she? She’s very fond of
you, isn’t she?”

“Oh, yes, indeed,” replied Pauline, still sobbing.

“And your papa, he’s good to you, too, isn’t he? He doesn’t flog you, or
quarrel with your mother, does he? What do they talk about when they go
to bed?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m asleep then.”

“Do they talk about your cousin Florent?”

“I don’t know.”

Mademoiselle Saget thereupon assumed a severe expression, and got up as
if about to go away.

“I’m afraid you are a little story-teller,” she said. “Don’t you know
that it’s very wicked to tell stories? I shall go away and leave you, if
you tell me lies, and then Muche will come back and pinch you.”

Pauline began to cry again at the threat of being abandoned. “Be quiet,
be quiet, you wicked little imp!” cried the old maid shaking
her. “There, there, now, I won’t go away. I’ll buy you a stick of
barley-sugar; yes, a stick of barley-sugar! So you don’t love your
cousin Florent, eh?”

“No, mamma says he isn’t good.”

“Ah, then, so you see your mother does say something.”

“One night when I was in bed with Mouton--I sleep with Mouton sometimes,
you know--I heard her say to father, ‘Your brother has only escaped from
the galleys to take us all back with him there.’”

Mademoiselle Saget gave vent to a faint cry, and sprang to her feet,
quivering all over. A ray of light had just broken upon her. Then
without a word she caught hold of Pauline’s hand and made her run till
they reached the pork shop, her lips meanwhile compressed by an inward
smile, and her eyes glistening with keen delight. At the corner of the
Rue Pirouette, Muche, who had so far followed them, amused at seeing the
girl running along in her muddy stockings, prudently disappeared.

Lisa was now in a state of terrible alarm; and when she saw her daughter
so bedraggled and limp, her consternation was such that she turned the
child round and round, without even thinking of beating her.

“She has been with little Muche,” said the old maid, in her malicious
voice. “I took her away at once, and I’ve brought her home. I found them
together in the square. I don’t know what they’ve been up to; but that
young vagabond is capable of anything.”

Lisa could not find a word to say; and she did not know where to take
hold of her daughter, so great was her disgust at the sight of the
child’s muddy boots, soiled stockings, torn skirts, and filthy face and
hands. The blue velvet ribbon, the earrings, and the necklet were all
concealed beneath a crust of mud. But what put the finishing touch to
Lisa’s exasperation was the discovery of the two pockets filled with
mould. She stooped and emptied them, regardless of the pink and white
flooring of the shop. And as she dragged Pauline away, she could only
gasp: “Come along, you filthy thing!”

Quite enlivened by this scene, Mademoiselle Saget now hurriedly made
her way across the Rue Rambuteau. Her little feet scarcely touched the
ground; her joy seemed to carry her along like a breeze which fanned her
with a caressing touch. She had at last found out what she had so much
wanted to know! For nearly a year she had been consumed by curiosity,
and now at a single stroke she had gained complete power over Florent!
This was unhoped-for contentment, positive salvation, for she felt that
Florent would have brought her to the tomb had she failed much longer in
satisfying her curiosity about him. At present she was complete mistress
of the whole neighbourhood of the markets. There was no longer any gap
in her information. She could have narrated the secret history of every
street, shop by shop. And thus, as she entered the fruit market, she
fairly gasped with delight, in a perfect transport of pleasure.

“Hallo, Mademoiselle Saget,” cried La Sarriette from her stall, “what
are you smiling to yourself like that about? Have you won the grand
prize in the lottery?”

“No, no. Ah, my dear, if you only knew!”

Standing there amidst her fruit, La Sarriette, in her picturesque
disarray, looked charming. Frizzy hair fell over her brow like vine
branches. Her bare arms and neck, indeed all the rosy flesh she showed,
bloomed with the freshness of peach and cherry. She had playfully hung
some cherries on her ears, black cherries which dangled against her
cheeks when she stooped, shaking with merry laughter. She was eating
currants, and her merriment arose from the way in which she was smearing
her face with them. Her lips were bright red, glistening with the juice
of the fruit, as though they had been painted and perfumed with some
seraglio face-paint. A perfume of plum exhaled from her gown, while
from the kerchief carelessly fastened across her breast came an odour of

Fruits of all kinds were piled around her in her narrow stall. On the
shelves at the back were rows of melons, so-called “cantaloups” swarming
with wart-like knots, “maraichers” whose skin was covered with grey
lace-like netting, and “culs-de-singe” displaying smooth bare bumps. In
front was an array of choice fruits, carefully arranged in baskets, and
showing like smooth round cheeks seeking to hide themselves, or glimpses
of sweet childish faces, half veiled by leaves. Especially was this the
case with the peaches, the blushing peaches of Montreuil, with skin
as delicate and clear as that of northern maidens, and the yellow,
sun-burnt peaches from the south, brown like the damsels of Provence.
The apricots, on their beds of moss, gleamed with the hue of amber or
with that sunset glow which so warmly colours the necks of brunettes at
the nape, just under the little wavy curls which fall below the chignon.
The cherries, ranged one by one, resembled the short lips of smiling
Chinese girls; the Montmorencies suggested the dumpy mouths of buxom
women; the English ones were longer and graver-looking; the common black
ones seemed as though they had been bruised and crushed by kisses; while
the white-hearts, with their patches of rose and white, appeared to
smile with mingled merriment and vexation. Then piles of apples
and pears, built up with architectural symmetry, often in pyramids,
displayed the ruddy glow of budding breasts and the gleaming sheen of
shoulders, quite a show of nudity, lurking modestly behind a screen of
fern-leaves. There were all sorts of varieties--little red ones so
tiny that they seemed to be yet in the cradle, shapeless “rambours”
 for baking, “calvilles” in light yellow gowns, sanguineous-looking
“Canadas,” blotched “chataignier” apples, fair freckled rennets and
dusky russets. Then came the pears--the “blanquettes,” the “British
queens,” the “Beurres,” the “messirejeans,” and the “duchesses”--some
dumpy, some long and tapering, some with slender necks, and others with
thick-set shoulders, their green and yellow bellies picked out at times
with a splotch of carmine. By the side of these the transparent plums
resembled tender, chlorotic virgins; the greengages and the Orleans
plums paled as with modest innocence, while the mirabelles lay like
golden beads of a rosary forgotten in a box amongst sticks of
vanilla. And the strawberries exhaled a sweet perfume--a perfume of
youth--especially those little ones which are gathered in the woods, and
which are far more aromatic than the large ones grown in gardens,
for these breathe an insipid odour suggestive of the watering-pot.
Raspberries added their fragrance to the pure scent. The currants--red,
white, and black--smiled with a knowing air; whilst the heavy clusters
of grapes, laden with intoxication, lay languorously at the edges
of their wicker baskets, over the sides of which dangled some of the
berries, scorched by the hot caresses of the voluptuous sun.

It was there that La Sarriette lived in an orchard, as it were, in
an atmosphere of sweet, intoxicating scents. The cheaper fruits--the
cherries, plums, and strawberries--were piled up in front of her in
paper-lined baskets, and the juice coming from their bruised ripeness
stained the stall-front, and steamed, with a strong perfume, in the
heat. She would feel quite giddy on those blazing July afternoons when
the melons enveloped her with a powerful, vaporous odour of musk; and
then with her loosened kerchief, fresh as she was with the springtide of
life, she brought sudden temptation to all who saw her. It was she--it
was her arms and necks which gave that semblance of amorous vitality
to her fruit. On the stall next to her an old woman, a hideous old
drunkard, displayed nothing but wrinkled apples, pears as flabby
as herself, and cadaverous apricots of a witch-like sallowness. La
Sarriette’s stall, however, spoke of love and passion. The cherries
looked like the red kisses of her bright lips; the silky peaches were
not more delicate than her neck; to the plums she seemed to have lent
the skin from her brow and chin; while some of her own crimson blood
coursed through the veins of the currants. All the scents of the
avenue of flowers behind her stall were but insipid beside the aroma of
vitality which exhaled from her open baskets and falling kerchief.

That day she was quite intoxicated by the scent of a large arrival of
mirabelle plums, which filled the market. She could plainly see that
Mademoiselle Saget had learnt some great piece of news, and she wished
to make her talk. But the old maid stamped impatiently whilst she
repeated: “No, no; I’ve no time. I’m in a great hurry to see Madame
Lecoeur. I’ve just learnt something and no mistake. You can come with
me, if you like.”

As a matter of fact, she had simply gone through the fruit market for
the purpose of enticing La Sarriette to go with her. The girl could
not refuse temptation. Monsieur Jules, clean-shaven and as fresh as a
cherub, was seated there, swaying to and fro on his chair.

“Just look after the stall for a minute, will you?” La Sarriette said to
him. “I’ll be back directly.”

Jules, however, got up and called after her, in a thick voice: “Not I;
no fear! I’m off! I’m not going to wait an hour for you, as I did the
other day. And, besides, those cursed plums of yours quite make my head

Then he calmly strolled off, with his hands in his pockets, and the
stall was left to look after itself. Mademoiselle Saget went so fast
that La Sarriette had to run. In the butter pavilion a neighbour of
Madame Lecoeur’s told them that she was below in the cellar; and so,
whilst La Sarriette went down to find her, the old maid installed
herself amidst the cheeses.

The cellar under the butter market is a very gloomy spot. The rows of
storerooms are protected by a very fine wire meshing, as a safeguard
against fire; and the gas jets, which are very few and far between,
glimmer like yellow splotches destitute of radiance in the heavy,
malordorous atmosphere beneath the low vault. Madame Lecoeur, however,
was at work on her butter at one of the tables placed parallel with the
Rue Berger, and here a pale light filtered through the vent-holes. The
tables, which are continually sluiced with a flood of water from the
taps, are as white as though they were quite new. With her back turned
to the pump in the rear, Madame Lecoeur was kneading her butter in a
kind of oak box. She took some of different sorts which lay beside her,
and mixed the varieties together, correcting one by another, just as is
done in the blending of wines. Bent almost double, and showing sharp,
bony shoulders, and arms bared to the elbows, as scraggy and knotted as
pea-rods, she dug her fists into the greasy paste in front of her, which
was assuming a whitish and chalky appearance. It was trying work, and
she heaved a sigh at each fresh effort.

“Mademoiselle Saget wants to speak to you, aunt,” said La Sarriette.

Madame Lecoeur stopped her work, and pulled her cap over her hair with
her greasy fingers, seemingly quite careless of staining it. “I’ve
nearly finished. Ask her to wait a moment,” she said.

“She’s got something very particular to tell you,” continued La

“I won’t be more than a minute, my dear.”

Then she again plunged her arms into the butter, which buried them up
to the elbows. Previously softened in warm water, it covered Madame
Lecoeur’s parchment-like skin as with an oily film, and threw the big
purple veins that streaked her flesh into strong relief. La Sarriette
was quite disgusted by the sight of those hideous arms working so
frantically amidst the melting mass. However, she could recall the time
when her own pretty little hands had manipulated the butter for whole
afternoons at a time. It had even been a sort of almond-paste to her,
a cosmetic which had kept her skin white and her nails delicately pink;
and even now her slender fingers retained the suppleness it had endowed
them with.

“I don’t think that butter of yours will be very good, aunt,” she
continued, after a pause. “Some of the sorts seem much too strong.”

“I’m quite aware of that,” replied Madame Lecoeur, between a couple of
groans. “But what can I do? I must use everything up. There are some
folks who insist upon having butter cheap, and so cheap butter must be
made for them. Oh! it’s always quite good enough for those who buy it.”

La Sarriette reflected that she would hardly care to eat butter which
had been worked by her aunt’s arms. Then she glanced at a little jar
full of a sort of reddish dye. “Your colouring is too pale,” she said.

This colouring-matter--“raucourt,” as the Parisians call it is used to
give the butter a fine yellow tint. The butter women imagine that
its composition is known only to themselves, and keep it very secret.
However, it is merely made from anotta;[*] though a composition of
carrots and marigold is at times substituted for it.

     [*] Anotta, which is obtained from the pulp surrounding the
     seeds of the _Bixa Orellana_, is used for a good many
     purposes besides the colouring of butter and cheese. It
     frequently enters into the composition of chocolate, and is
     employed to dye nankeen. Police court proceedings have also
     shown that it is well known to the London milkmen, who are
     in the habit of adding water to their merchandise.

“Come, do be quick!” La Sarriette now exclaimed, for she was getting
impatient, and was, moreover, no longer accustomed to the malodorous
atmosphere of the cellar. “Mademoiselle Saget will be going. I fancy
she’s got something very important to tell you abut my uncle Gavard.”

On hearing this, Madame Lecoeur abruptly ceased working. She at once
abandoned both butter and dye, and did not even wait to wipe her arms.
With a slight tap of her hand she settled her cap on her head again, and
made her way up the steps, at her niece’s heels, anxiously repeating:
“Do you really think that she’ll have gone away?”

She was reassured, however, on catching sight of Mademoiselle Saget
amidst the cheeses. The old maid had taken good care not to go away
before Madame Lecoeur’s arrival. The three women seated themselves at
the far end of the stall, crowding closely together, and their faces
almost touching one another. Mademoiselle Saget remained silent for
two long minutes, and then, seeing that the others were burning with
curiosity, she began, in her shrill voice: “You know that Florent! Well,
I can tell you now where he comes from.”

For another moment she kept them in suspense; and then, in a deep,
melodramatic voice, she said: “He comes from the galleys!”

The cheeses were reeking around the three women. On the two shelves at
the far end of the stall were huge masses of butter: Brittany butters
overflowing from baskets; Normandy butters, wrapped in canvas, and
resembling models of stomachs over which some sculptor had thrown damp
cloths to keep them from drying; while other great blocks had been cut
into, fashioned into perpendicular rocky masses full of crevasses and
valleys, and resembling fallen mountain crests gilded by the pale sun of
an autumn evening.

Beneath the stall show-table, formed of a slab of red marble veined with
grey, baskets of eggs gleamed with a chalky whiteness; while on layers
of straw in boxes were Bondons, placed end to end, and Gournays,
arranged like medals, forming darker patches tinted with green. But
it was upon the table that the cheeses appeared in greatest profusion.
Here, by the side of the pound-rolls of butter lying on white-beet
leaves, spread a gigantic Cantal cheese, cloven here and there as by an
axe; then came a golden-hued Cheshire, and next a Gruyere, resembling
a wheel fallen from some barbarian chariot; whilst farther on were some
Dutch cheeses, suggesting decapitated heads suffused with dry blood, and
having all that hardness of skulls which in France has gained them
the name of “death’s heads.” Amidst the heavy exhalations of these, a
Parmesan set a spicy aroma. Then there came three Brie cheeses displayed
on round platters, and looking like melancholy extinct moons. Two of
them, very dry, were at the full; the third, in its second quarter, was
melting away in a white cream, which had spread into a pool and flowed
over the little wooden barriers with which an attempt had been made to
arrest its course. Next came some Port Saluts, similar to antique discs,
with exergues bearing their makers’ names in print. A Romantour, in its
tin-foil wrapper, suggested a bar of nougat or some sweet cheese astray
amidst all these pungent, fermenting curds. The Roqueforts under their
glass covers also had a princely air, their fat faces marbled with blue
and yellow, as though they were suffering from some unpleasant malady
such as attacks the wealthy gluttons who eat too many truffles. And on a
dish by the side of these, the hard grey goats’ milk cheeses, about the
size of a child’s fist, resembled the pebbles which the billy-goats
send rolling down the stony paths as they clamber along ahead of their
flocks. Next came the strong smelling cheeses: the Mont d’Ors, of a
bright yellow hue, and exhaling a comparatively mild odour; the Troyes,
very thick, and bruised at the edges, and of a far more pungent smell,
recalling the dampness of a cellar; the Camemberts, suggestive of high
game; the square Neufchatels, Limbourgs, Marolles, and Pont l’Eveques,
each adding its own particular sharp scent to the malodorous bouquet,
till it became perfectly pestilential; the Livarots, ruddy in hue, and
as irritating to the throat as sulphur fumes; and, lastly, stronger than
all the others, the Olivets, wrapped in walnut leaves, like the carrion
which peasants cover with branches as it lies rotting in the hedgerow
under the blazing sun.

The heat of the afternoon had softened the cheeses; the patches of mould
on their crusts were melting, and glistening with tints of ruddy bronze
and verdigris. Beneath their cover of leaves, the skins of the Olivets
seemed to be heaving as with the slow, deep respiration of a sleeping
man. A Livarot was swarming with life; and in a fragile box behind the
scales a Gerome flavoured with aniseed diffused such a pestilential
smell that all around it the very flies had fallen lifeless on the
gray-veined slap of ruddy marble.

This Gerome was almost immediately under Mademoiselle Saget’s nose; so
she drew back, and leaned her head against the big sheets of white and
yellow paper which were hanging in a corner.

“Yes,” she repeated, with an expression of disgust, “he comes from the
galleys! Ah, those Quenu-Gradelles have no reason to put on so many

Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette, however, had burst into exclamations of
astonishment: “It wasn’t possible, surely! What had he done to be sent
to the galleys? Could anyone, now, have ever suspected that Madame
Quenu, whose virtue was the pride of the whole neighbourhood, would
choose a convict for a lover?”

“Ah, but you don’t understand at all!” cried the old maid impatiently.
“Just listen, now, while I explain things. I was quite certain that I
had seen that great lanky fellow somewhere before.”

Then she proceeded to tell them Florent’s story. She had recalled to
mind a vague report which had circulated of a nephew of old Gradelle
being transported to Cayenne for murdering six gendarmes at a barricade.
She had even seen this nephew on one occasion in the Rue Pirouette. The
pretended cousin was undoubtedly the same man. Then she began to bemoan
her waning powers. Her memory was quite going, she said; she would soon
be unable to remember anything. And she bewailed her perishing memory
as bitterly as any learned man might bewail the loss of his notes
representing the work of a life-time, on seeing them swept away by a
gust of wind.

“Six gendarmes!” murmured La Sarriette, admiringly; “he must have a very
heavy fist!”

“And he’s made away with plenty of others, as well,” added Mademoiselle
Saget. “I shouldn’t advise you to meet him at night!”

“What a villain!” stammered out Madame Lecoeur, quite terrified.

The slanting beams of the sinking sun were now enfilading the pavilion,
and the odour of the cheeses became stronger than ever. That of the
Marolles seemed to predominate, borne hither and thither in powerful
whiffs. Then, however, the wind appeared to change, and suddenly the
emanations of the Limbourgs were wafted towards the three women, pungent
and bitter, like the last gasps of a dying man.

“But in that case,” resumed Madame Lecoeur, “he must be fat Lisa’s
brother-in-law. And we thought that he was her lover!”

The women exchanged glances. This aspect of the case took them by
surprise. They were loth to give up their first theory. However, La
Sarriette, turning to Mademoiselle Saget, remarked: “That must have been
all wrong. Besides, you yourself say that he’s always running after the
two Mehudin girls.”

“Certainly he is,” exclaimed Mademoiselle Saget sharply, fancying that
her word was doubted. “He dangles about them every evening. But, after
all, it’s no concern of ours, is it? We are virtuous women, and what he
does makes no difference to us, the horrid scoundrel!”

“No, certainly not,” agreed the other two. “He’s a consummate villain.”

The affair was becoming tragical. Of course beautiful Lisa was now
out of the question, but for this they found ample consolation in
prophesying that Florent would bring about some frightful catastrophe.
It was quite clear, they said, that he had got some base design in
his head. When people like him escaped from gaol it was only to burn
everything down; and if he had come to the markets it must assuredly be
for some abominable purpose. Then they began to indulge in the wildest
suppositions. The two dealers declared that they would put additional
padlocks to the doors of their storerooms; and La Sarriette called
to mind that a basket of peaches had been stolen from her during the
previous week. Mademoiselle Saget, however, quite frightened the two
others by informing them that that was not the way in which the Reds
behaved; they despised such trifles as baskets of peaches; their plan
was to band themselves together in companies of two or three hundred,
kill everybody they came across, and then plunder and pillage at their
ease. That was “politics,” she said, with the superior air of one who
knew what she was talking about. Madame Lecoeur felt quite ill. She
already saw Florent and his accomplices hiding in the cellars, and
rushing out during the night to set the markets in flames and sack

“Ah! by the way,” suddenly exclaimed the old maid, “now I think of it,
there’s all that money of old Gradelle’s! Dear me, dear me, those Quenus
can’t be at all at their ease!”

She now looked quite gay again. The conversation took a fresh turn, and
the others fell foul of the Quenus when Mademoiselle Saget had told them
the history of the treasure discovered in the salting-tub, with every
particular of which she was acquainted. She was even able to inform
them of the exact amount of the money found--eighty-five thousand
francs--though neither Lisa nor Quenu was aware of having revealed this
to a living soul. However, it was clear that the Quenus had not given
the great lanky fellow his share. He was too shabbily dressed for
that. Perhaps he had never even heard of the discovery of the treasure.
Plainly enough, they were all thieves in his family. Then the three
women bent their heads together and spoke in lower tones. They were
unanimously of opinion that it might perhaps be dangerous to attack the
beautiful Lisa, but it was decidedly necessary that they should settle
the Red Republican’s hash, so that he might no longer prey upon the
purse of poor Monsieur Gavard.

At the mention of Gavard there came a pause. The gossips looked at
each other with a circumspect air. And then, as they drew breath, they
inhaled the odour of the Camemberts, whose gamy scent had overpowered
the less penetrating emanations of the Marolles and the Limbourgs, and
spread around with remarkable power. Every now and then, however, a
slight whiff, a flutelike note, came from the Parmesan, while the Bries
contributed a soft, musty scent, the gentle, insipid sound, as it were,
of damp tambourines. Next followed an overpowering refrain from the
Livarots, and afterwards the Gerome, flavoured with aniseed, kept up the
symphony with a high prolonged note, like that of a vocalist during a
pause in the accompaniment.

“I have seen Madame Leonce,” Mademoiselle Saget at last continued, with
a significant expression.

At this the two others became extremely attentive. Madame Leonce was the
doorkeeper of the house where Gavard lived in the Rue de la Cossonnerie.
It was an old house standing back, with its ground floor occupied by an
importer of oranges and lemons, who had had the frontage coloured blue
as high as the first floor. Madame Leonce acted as Gavard’s housekeeper,
kept the keys of his cupboards and closets, and brought him up tisane
when he happened to catch cold. She was a severe-looking woman, between
fifty and sixty years of age, and spoke slowly, but at endless length.
Mademoiselle Saget, who went to drink coffee with her every Wednesday
evening, had cultivated her friendship more closely than ever since the
poultry dealer had gone to lodge in the house. They would talk about
the worthy man for hours at a time. They both professed the greatest
affection for him, and a keen desire to ensure his comfort and

“Yes, I have seen Madame Leonce,” repeated the old maid. “We had a cup
of coffee together last night. She was greatly worried. It seems that
Monsieur Gavard never comes home now before one o’clock in the morning.
Last Sunday she took him up some broth, as she thought he looked quite

“Oh, she knows very well what she’s about,” exclaimed Madame Lecoeur,
whom these attentions to Gavard somewhat alarmed.

Mademoiselle Saget felt bound to defend her friend. “Oh, really, you are
quite mistaken,” said she. “Madame Leonce is much above her position;
she is quite a lady. If she wanted to enrich herself at Monsieur
Gavard’s expense, she might easily have done so long ago. It seems that
he leaves everything lying about in the most careless fashion. It’s
about that, indeed, that I want to speak to you. But you’ll not repeat
anything I say, will you? I am telling it you in strict confidence.”

Both the others swore that they would never breathe a word of what they
might hear; and they craned out their necks with eager curiosity, whilst
the old maid solemnly resumed: “Well, then, Monsieur Gavard has been
behaving very strangely of late. He has been buying firearms--a great
big pistol--one of those which revolve, you know. Madame Leonce says
that things are awful, for this pistol is always lying about on the
table or the mantelpiece; and she daren’t dust anywhere near it. But
that isn’t all. His money--”

“His money!” echoed Madame Lecoeur, with blazing cheeks.

“Well, he’s disposed of all his stocks and shares. He’s sold everything,
and keeps a great heap of gold in a cupboard.”

“A heap of gold!” exclaimed La Sarriette in ecstasy.

“Yes, a great heap of gold. It covers a whole shelf, and is quite
dazzling. Madame Leonce told me that one morning Gavard opened the
cupboard in her presence, and that the money quite blinded her, it shone

There was another pause. The eyes of the three women were blinking as
though the dazzling pile of gold was before them. Presently La Sarriette
began to laugh.

“What a jolly time I would have with Jules if my uncle would give that
money to me!” said she.

Madame Lecoeur, however, seemed quite overwhelmed by this revelation,
crushed beneath the weight of the gold which she could not banish from
her sight. Covetous envy thrilled her. But at last, raising her skinny
arms and shrivelled hands, her finger-nails still stuffed with butter,
she stammered in a voice full of bitter distress: “Oh, I mustn’t think
of it! It’s too dreadful!”

“Well, it would all be yours, you know, if anything were to happen to
Monsieur Gavard,” retorted Mademoiselle Saget. “If I were in your place,
I would look after my interests. That revolver means nothing good,
you may depend upon it. Monsieur Gavard has got into the hands of evil
counsellors; and I’m afraid it will all end badly.”

Then the conversation again turned upon Florent. The three women
assailed him more violently than ever. And afterwards, with perfect
composure, they began to discuss what would be the result of all these
dark goings-on so far as he and Gavard were concerned; certainly it
would be no pleasant one if there was any gossiping. And thereupon they
swore that they themselves would never repeat a word of what they knew;
not, however, because that scoundrel Florent merited any consideration,
but because it was necessary, at all costs, to save that worthy Monsieur
Gavard from being compromised. Then they rose from their seats, and
Mademoiselle Saget was burning as if to go away when the butter dealer
asked her: “All the same, in case of accident, do you think that Madame
Leonce can be trusted? I dare say she has the key of the cupboard.”

“Well, that’s more than I can tell you,” replied the old maid. “I
believe she’s a very honest woman; but, after all, there’s no telling.
There are circumstances, you know, which tempt the best of people.
Anyhow, I’ve warned you both; and you must do what you think proper.”

As the three women stood there, taking leave of each other, the odour
of the cheeses seemed to become more pestilential than ever. It was a
cacophony of smells, ranging from the heavily oppressive odour of the
Dutch cheeses and the Gruyeres to the alkaline pungency of the Olivets.
From the Cantal, the Cheshire, and the goats’ milk cheeses there seemed
to come a deep breath like the sound of a bassoon, amidst which the
sharp, sudden whiffs of the Neufchatels, the Troyes, and the Mont
d’Ors contributed short, detached notes. And then the different odours
appeared to mingle one with another, the reek of the Limbourgs, the Port
Saluts, the Geromes, the Marolles, the Livarots, and the Pont l’Eveques
uniting in one general, overpowering stench sufficient to provoke
asphyxia. And yet it almost seemed as though it were not the cheeses but
the vile words of Madame Lecoeur and Mademoiselle Saget that diffused
this awful odour.

“I’m very much obliged to you, indeed I am,” said the butter dealer. “If
ever I get rich, you shall not find yourself forgotten.”

The old maid still lingered in the stall. Taking up a Bondon, she turned
it round, and put it down on the slab again. Then she asked its price.

“To me!” she added, with a smile.

“Oh, nothing to you,” replied Madame Lecoeur. “I’ll make you a present
of it.” And again she exclaimed: “Ah, if I were only rich!”

Mademoiselle Saget thereupon told her that some day or other she would
be rich. The Bondon had already disappeared within the old maid’s bag.
And now the butter dealer returned to the cellar, while Mademoiselle
Saget escorted La Sarriette back to her stall. On reaching it they
talked for a moment or two about Monsieur Jules. The fruits around them
diffused a fresh scent of summer.

“It smells much nicer here than at your aunt’s,” said the old maid. “I
felt quite ill a little time ago. I can’t think how she manages to exist
there. But here it’s very sweet and pleasant. It makes you look quite
rosy, my dear.”

La Sarriette began to laugh, for she was fond of compliments. Then she
served a lady with a pound of mirabelle plums, telling her that they
were as sweet as sugar.

“I should like to buy some of those mirabelles too,” murmured
Mademoiselle Saget, when the lady had gone away; “only I want so few. A
lone woman, you know.”

“Take a handful of them,” exclaimed the pretty brunette. “That won’t
ruin me. Send Jules back to me if you see him, will you? You’ll most
likely find him smoking his cigar on the first bench to the right as you
turn out of the covered way.”

Mademoiselle Saget distended her fingers as widely as possible in order
to take a handful of mirabelles, which joined the Bondon in the bag.
Then she pretended to leave the market, but in reality made a detour by
one of the covered ways, thinking, as she walked slowly along, that the
mirabelles and Bondon would not make a very substantial dinner. When she
was unable, during her afternoon perambulations, to wheedle stallkeepers
into filling her bag for her, she was reduced to dining off the merest
scraps. So she now slyly made her way back to the butter pavilions,
where, on the side of the Rue Berger, at the back of the offices of the
oyster salesmen, there were some stalls at which cooked meat was
sold. Every morning little closed box-like carts, lined with zinc and
furnished with ventilators, drew up in front of the larger Parisian
kitchens and carried away the leavings of the restaurants, the
embassies, and State Ministries. These leavings were conveyed to the
market cellars and there sorted. By nine o’clock plates of food were
displayed for sale at prices ranging from three to five sous, their
contents comprising slices of meat, scraps of game, heads and tails of
fishes, bits of galantine, stray vegetables, and, by way of dessert,
cakes scarcely cut into, and other confectionery. Poor starving
wretches, scantily-paid clerks, and women shivering with fever were
to be seen crowding around, and the street lads occasionally amused
themselves by hooting the pale-faced individuals, known to be misers,
who only made their purchases after slyly glancing about them to see
that they were not observed.[*] Mademoiselle Saget wriggled her way to
a stall, the keeper of which boasted that the scraps she sold came
exclusively from the Tuileries. One day, indeed, she had induced the old
maid to buy a slice of leg of mutton by informing that it had come from
the plate of the Emperor himself; and this slice of mutton, eaten with
no little pride, had been a soothing consolation to Mademoiselle Saget’s
vanity. The wariness of her approach to the stall was, moreover, solely
caused by her desire to keep well with the neighbouring shop people,
whose premises she was eternally haunting without ever buying anything.
Her usual tactics were to quarrel with them as soon as she had managed
to learn their histories, when she would bestow her patronage upon a
fresh set, desert it in due course, and then gradually make friends
again with those with whom she had quarrelled. In this way she made the
complete circuit of the market neighbourhood, ferreting about in every
shop and stall. Anyone would have imagined that she consumed an enormous
amount of provisions, whereas, in point of fact, she lived solely upon
presents and the few scraps which she was compelled to buy when people
were not in the giving vein.

     [*] The dealers in these scraps are called _bijoutiers_, or
     jewellers, whilst the scraps themselves are known as
     _harlequins_, the idea being that they are of all colours
     and shapes when mingled together, thus suggesting
     harlequin’s variegated attire.--Translator.

On that particular evening there was only a tall old man standing in
front of the stall. He was sniffing at a plate containing a mixture
of meat and fish. Mademoiselle Saget, in her turn, began to sniff at a
plate of cold fried fish. The price of it was three sous, but, by dint
of bargaining, she got it for two. The cold fish then vanished into the
bag. Other customers now arrived, and with a uniform impulse lowered
their noses over the plates. The smell of the stall was very disgusting,
suggestive alike of greasy dishes and a dirty sink.[*]

     [*] Particulars of the strange and repulsive trade in
     harlequins, which even nowadays is not extinct, will be
     found in Privat d’Anglemont’s well-known book _Paris
     Anecdote_, written at the very period with which M. Zola
     deals in the present work. My father, Henry Vizetelly, also
     gave some account of it in his _Glances Back through Seventy
     Years_, in a chapter describing the odd ways in which
     certain Parisians contrive to get a living.--Translator.

“Come and see me to-morrow,” the stallkeeper called out to the old maid,
“and I’ll put something nice on one side for you. There’s going to be a
grand dinner at the Tuileries to-night.”

Mademoiselle Saget was just promising to come, when, happening to turn
round, she discovered Gavard looking at her and listening to what she
was saying. She turned very red, and, contracting her skinny shoulders,
hurried away, affecting not to recognise him. Gavard, however, followed
her for a few yards, shrugging his shoulders and muttering to himself
that he was no longer surprised at the old shrew’s malice, now he
knew that “she poisoned herself with the filth carted away from the

On the very next morning vague rumours began to circulate in the
markets. Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette were in their own fashion
keeping the oaths of silence they had taken. For her own part,
Mademoiselle Saget warily held her tongue, leaving the two others to
circulate the story of Florent’s antecedents. At first only a few meagre
details were hawked about in low tones; then various versions of the
facts got into circulation, incidents were exaggerated, and gradually
quite a legend was constructed, in which Florent played the part of a
perfect bogey man. He had killed ten gendarmes at the barricade in the
Rue Greneta, said some; he had returned to France on a pirate ship whose
crew scoured the seas to murder everyone they came across, said others;
whilst a third set declared that ever since his arrival he had been
observed prowling about at nighttime with suspicious-looking characters,
of whom he was undoubtedly the leader. Soon the imaginative market
women indulged in the highest flights of fancy, revelled in the most
melodramatic ideas. There was talk of a band of smugglers plying their
nefarious calling in the very heart of Paris, and of a vast central
association formed for systematically robbing the stalls in the markets.
Much pity was expressed for the Quenu-Gradelles, mingled with malicious
allusions to their uncle’s fortune. That fortune was an endless subject
of discussion. The general opinion was that Florent had returned
to claim his share of the treasure; however, as no good reason was
forthcoming to explain why the division had not taken place already, it
was asserted that Florent was waiting for some opportunity which
might enable him to pocket the whole amount. The Quenu-Gradelles would
certainly be found murdered some morning, it was said; and a rumour
spread that dreadful quarrels already took place every night between the
two brothers and beautiful Lisa.

When these stories reached the ears of the beautiful Norman, she
shrugged her shoulders and burst out laughing.

“Get away with you!” she cried, “you don’t know him. Why, the dear
fellow’s as gentle as a lamb.”

She had recently refused the hand of Monsieur Lebigre, who had at last
ventured upon a formal proposal. For two months past he had given the
Mehudins a bottle of some liqueur every Sunday. It was Rose who brought
it, and she was always charged with a compliment for La Normande, some
pretty speech which she faithfully repeated, without appearing in the
slightest degree embarrassed by the peculiar commission. When Monsieur
Lebigre was rejected, he did not pine, but to show that he took no
offence and was still hopeful, he sent Rose on the following Sunday with
two bottles of champagne and a large bunch of flowers. She gave them
into the handsome fish-girl’s own hands, repeating, as she did so, the
wine dealer’s prose madrigal:

“Monsieur Lebigre begs you to drink this to his health, which has been
greatly shaken by you know what. He hopes that you will one day be
willing to cure him, by being for him as pretty and as sweet as these

La Normande was much amused by the servant’s delighted air. She kissed
her as she spoke to her of her master, and asked her if he wore braces,
and snored at nights. Then she made her take the champagne and flowers
back with her. “Tell Monsieur Lebigre,” said she, “that he’s not to send
you here again. It quite vexes me to see you coming here so meekly, with
your bottles under your arms.”

“Oh, he wishes me to come,” replied Rose, as she went away. “It is wrong
of you to distress him. He is a very handsome man.”

La Normande, however, was quite conquered by Florent’s affectionate
nature. She continued to follow Muche’s lessons of an evening in the
lamplight, indulging the while in a dream of marrying this man who was
so kind to children. She would still keep her fish stall, while he would
doubtless rise to a position of importance in the administrative staff
of the markets. This dream of hers, however, was scarcely furthered by
the tutor’s respectful bearing towards her. He bowed to her, and kept
himself at a distance, when she have liked to laugh with him, and love
him as she knew how to love. But it was just this covert resistance
on Florent’s part which continually brought her back to the dream of
marrying him. She realised that he lived in a loftier sphere than her
own; and by becoming his wife she imagined that her vanity would reap no
little satisfaction.

She was greatly surprised when she learned the history of the man she
loved. He had never mentioned a word of those things to her; and she
scolded him about it. His extraordinary adventures only increased her
tenderness for him, and for evenings together she made him relate all
that had befallen him. She trembled with fear lest the police should
discover him; but he reassured her, saying that the matter was now too
old for the police to trouble their heads about it. One evening he told
her of the woman on the Boulevard Montmartre, the woman in the pink
bonnet, whose blood had dyed his hands. He still frequently thought of
that poor creature. His anguish-stricken mind had often dwelt upon her
during the clear nights he had passed in Cayenne; and he had returned
to France with a wild dream of meeting her again on some footway in the
bright sunshine, even though he could still feel her corpse-like weight
across his legs. And yet, he thought, she might perhaps have recovered.
At times he received quite a shock while he was walking through the
streets, on fancying that he recognised her; and he followed pink
bonnets and shawl-draped shoulders with a wildly beating heart. When he
closed his eyes he could see her walking, and advancing towards him;
but she let her shawl slip down, showing the two red stains on her
chemisette; and then he saw that her face was pale as wax, and that
her eyes were blank, and her lips distorted by pain. For a long time he
suffered from not knowing her name, from being forced to look upon her
as a mere shadow, whose recollection filled him with sorrow. Whenever
any idea of woman crossed his mind it was always she that rose up before
him, as the one pure, tender wife. He often found himself fancying that
she might be looking for him on that boulevard where she had fallen
dead, and that if she had met him a few seconds sooner she would have
given him a life of joy. And he wished for no other wife; none other
existed for him. When he spoke of her, his voice trembled to such a
degree that La Normande, her wits quickened by her love, guessed his
secret, and felt jealous.

“Oh, it’s really much better that you shouldn’t see her again,” she said
maliciously. “She can’t look particularly nice by this time.”

Florent turned pale with horror at the vision which these words evoked.
His love was rotting in her grave. He could not forgive La Normande’s
savage cruelty, which henceforth made him see the grinning jaws and
hollow eyes of a skeleton within that lovely pink bonnet. Whenever the
fish-girl tried to joke with him on the subject he turned quite angry,
and silenced her with almost coarse language.

That, however, which especially surprised the beautiful Norman in
these revelations was the discovery that she had been quite mistaken in
supposing that she was enticing a lover away from handsome Lisa. This
so diminished her feeling of triumph, that for a week or so her love
for Florent abated. She consoled herself, however, with the story of the
inheritance, no longer calling Lisa a strait-laced prude, but a thief
who kept back her brother-in-law’s money, and assumed sanctimonious airs
to deceive people. Every evening, while Muche took his writing lesson,
the conversation turned upon old Gradelle’s treasure.

“Did anyone ever hear of such an idea?” the fish-girl would exclaim,
with a laugh. “Did the old man want to salt his money, since he put
it in a salting-tub? Eighty-five thousand francs! That’s a nice sum
of money! And, besides, the Quenus, no doubt, lied about it--there
was perhaps two or three times as much. Ah, if I were in your place, I
shouldn’t lose any time about claiming my share; indeed I shouldn’t.”

“I’ve no need of anything,” was Florent’s invariable answer. “I
shouldn’t know what to do with the money if I had it.”

“Oh, you’re no man!” cried La Normande, losing all control over herself.
“It’s pitiful! Can’t you see that the Quenus are laughing at you? That
great fat thing passes all her husband’s old clothes over to you. I’m
not saying this to hurt your feelings, but everybody makes remarks about
it. Why, the whole neighbourhood has seen the greasy pair of trousers,
which you’re now wearing, on your brother’s legs for three years and
more! If I were in your place I’d throw their dirty rags in their faces,
and insist upon my rights. Your share comes to forty-two thousand five
hundred francs, doesn’t it? Well, I shouldn’t go out of the place till
I’d got forty-two thousand five hundred francs.”

It was useless for Florent to explain to her that his sister-in-law had
offered to pay him his share, that she was taking care of it for him,
and that it was he himself who had refused to receive it. He entered
into the most minute particulars, seeking to convince her of the Quenus’
honesty, but she sarcastically replied: “Oh, yes, I dare say! I know all
about their honesty. That fat thing folds it up every morning and puts
it away in her wardrobe for fear it should get soiled. Really, I quite
pity you, my poor friend. It’s easy to gull you, for you can’t see any
further than a child of five. One of these days she’ll simply put your
money in her pocket, and you’ll never look on it again. Shall I go, now,
and claim your share for you, just to see what she says? There’d be
some fine fun, I can tell you! I’d either have the money, or I’d break
everything in the house--I swear I would!”

“No, no, it’s no business of yours,” Florent replied, quite alarmed.
“I’ll see about it; I may possibly be wanting some money soon.”

At this La Normande assumed an air of doubt, shrugged her shoulders, and
told him that he was really too chicken-hearted. Her one great aim now
was to embroil him with the Quenu-Gradelles, and she employed every
means she could think of to effect her purpose, both anger and banter,
as well as affectionate tenderness. She also cherished another design.
When she had succeeded in marrying Florent, she would go and administer
a sound cuffing to beautiful Lisa, if the latter did not yield up the
money. As she lay awake in her bed at night she pictured every detail of
the scene. She saw herself sitting down in the middle of the pork shop
in the busiest part of the day, and making a terrible fuss. She brooded
over this idea to such an extent, it obtained such a hold upon her, that
she would have been willing to marry Florent simply in order to be able
to go and demand old Gradelle’s forty-two thousand five hundred francs.

Old Madame Mehudin, exasperated by La Normande’s dismissal of Monsieur
Lebigre, proclaimed everywhere that her daughter was mad, and that the
“long spindle-shanks” must have administered some insidious drug to her.
When she learned the Cayenne story, her anger was terrible. She called
Florent a convict and murderer, and said it was no wonder that his
villainy had kept him lank and flat. Her versions of Florent’s biography
were the most horrible of all that were circulated in the neighbourhood.
At home she kept a moderately quiet tongue in her head, and restricted
herself to muttered indignation, and a show of locking up the drawer
where the silver was kept whenever Florent arrived. One day, however,
after a quarrel with her elder daughter, she exclaimed:

“Things can’t go on much longer like this! It is that vile man who is
setting you against me. Take care that you don’t try me too far, or I’ll
go and denounce him to the police. I will, as true as I stand here!”

“You’ll denounce him!” echoed La Normande, trembling violently,
and clenching her fists. “You’d better not! Ah, if you weren’t my

At this, Claire, who was a spectator of the quarrel, began to laugh,
with a nervous laughter that seemed to rasp her throat. For some time
past she had been gloomier and more erratic than ever, invariably
showing red eyes and a pale face.

“Well, what would you do?” she asked. “Would you give her a cuffing?
Perhaps you’d like to give me, your sister, one as well? I dare say it
will end in that. But I’ll clear the house of him. I’ll go to the police
to save mother the trouble.”

Then, as La Normande almost choked with the angry threats that rose
to her throat, the younger girl added: “I’ll spare you the exertion of
beating me. I’ll throw myself into the river as I come back over the

Big tears were streaming from her eyes; and she rushed off to her
bedroom, banging the doors violently behind her. Old Madame Mehudin said
nothing more about denouncing Florent. Muche, however, told La Normande
that he met his grandma talking with Monsieur Lebigre in every corner of
the neighbourhood.

The rivalry between the beautiful Norman and the beautiful Lisa
now assumed a less aggressive but more disturbing character. In the
afternoon, when the red-striped canvas awning was drawn down in front
of the pork shop, the fish-girl would remark that the big fat thing felt
afraid, and was concealing herself. She was also much exasperated by
the occasional lowering of the window-blind, on which was pictured
a hunting-breakfast in a forest glade, with ladies and gentlemen in
evening dress partaking of a red pasty, as big as themselves, on the
yellow grass.

Beautiful Lisa, however, was by no means afraid. As soon as the sun
began to sink she drew up the blind; and, as she sat knitting behind her
counter, she serenely scanned the market square, where numerous urchins
were poking about in the soil under the gratings which protected the
roots of the plane-trees, while porters smoked their pipes on the
benches along the footway, at either end of which was an advertisement
column covered with theatrical posters, alternately green, yellow, red,
and blue, like some harlequin’s costume. And while pretending to watch
the passing vehicles, Lisa would really be scrutinising the beautiful
Norman. She might occasionally be seen bending forward, as though her
eyes were following the Bastille and Place Wagram omnibus to the Pointe
Saint Eustache, where it always stopped for a time. But this was only a
manoeuvre to enable her to get a better view of the fish-girl, who, as
a set-off against the blind, retorted by covering her head and fish with
large sheets of brown paper, on the pretext of warding off the rays of
the setting sun. The advantage at present was on Lisa’s side, for as
the time for striking the decisive blow approached she manifested the
calmest serenity of bearing, whereas her rival, in spite of all her
efforts to attain the same air of distinction, always lapsed into some
piece of gross vulgarity, which she afterwards regretted. La Normande’s
ambition was to look “like a lady.” Nothing irritated her more than to
hear people extolling the good manners of her rival. This weak point
of hers had not escaped old Madame Mehudin’s observation, and she now
directed all her attacks upon it.

“I saw Madame Quenu standing at her door this evening,” she would
say sometimes. “It is quite amazing how well she wears. And she’s so
refined-looking, too; quite the lady, indeed. It’s the counter that does
it, I’m sure. A fine counter gives a woman such a respectable look.”

In this remark there was a veiled allusion to Monsieur Lebigre’s
proposal. The beautiful Norman would make no reply; but for a moment or
two she would seem deep in thought. In her mind’s eye she saw herself
behind the counter of the wine shop at the other corner of the street,
forming a pendent, as it were, to beautiful Lisa. It was this that first
shook her love for Florent.

To tell the truth, it was now becoming a very difficult thing to defend
Florent. The whole neighbourhood was in arms against him; it seemed as
though everyone had an immediate interest in exterminating him. Some of
the market people swore that he had sold himself to the police; while
others asserted that he had been seen in the butter-cellar, attempting
to make holes in the wire grating, with the intention of tossing lighted
matches through them. There was a vast increase of slander, a perfect
flood of abuse, the source of which could not be exactly determined.
The fish pavilion was the last one to join in the revolt against the
inspector. The fish-wives liked Florent on account of his gentleness,
and for some time they defended him; but, influenced by the stallkeepers
of the butter and fruit pavilions, they at last gave way. Then
hostilities began afresh between these huge, swelling women and the
lean and lank inspector. He was lost in the whirl of the voluminous
petticoats and buxom bodices which surged furiously around his scraggy
shoulders. However, he understood nothing, but pursued his course
towards the realisation of his one haunting idea.

At every hour of the day, and in every corner of the market,
Mademoiselle Saget’s black bonnet was now to be seen in the midst of
this outburst of indignation. Her little pale face seemed to multiply.
She had sworn a terrible vengeance against the company which assembled
in Monsieur Lebigre’s little cabinet. She accused them of having
circulated the story that she lived on waste scraps of meat. The truth
was that old Gavard had told the others one evening that the “old
nanny-goat” who came to play the spy upon them gorged herself with the
filth which the Bonapartist clique tossed away. Clemence felt quite ill
on hearing this, and Robine hurriedly gulped down a draught of beer, as
though to wash his throat. In Gavard’s opinion, the scraps of meat
left on the Emperor’s plate were so much political ordure, the putrid
remnants of all the filth of the reign. Thenceforth the party at
Monsieur Lebigre’s looked on Mademoiselle Saget as a creature whom no
one could touch except with tongs. She was regarded as some unclean
animal that battened upon corruption. Clemence and Gavard circulated the
story so freely in the markets that the old maid found herself seriously
injured in her intercourse with the shopkeepers, who unceremoniously
bade her go off to the scrap-stalls when she came to haggle and gossip
at their establishments without the least intention of buying anything.
This cut her off from her sources of information; and sometimes she was
altogether ignorant of what was happening. She shed tears of rage, and
in one such moment of anger she bluntly said to La Sarriette and Madame
Lecoeur: “You needn’t give me any more hints: I’ll settle your Gavard’s
hash for him now--that I will!”

The two women were rather startled, but refrained from all protestation.
The next day, however, Mademoiselle Saget had calmed down, and again
expressed much tender-hearted pity for that poor Monsieur Gavard who was
so badly advised, and was certainly hastening to his ruin.

Gavard was undoubtedly compromising himself. Ever since the conspiracy
had begun to ripen he had carried the revolver, which caused Madame
Leonce so much alarm, in his pocket wherever he went. It was a big,
formidable-looking weapon, which he had bought of the principal gunmaker
in Paris. He exhibited it to all the women in the poultry market, like a
schoolboy who has got some prohibited novel hidden in his desk. First he
would allow the barrel to peer out of his pocket, and call attention
to it with a wink. Then he affected a mysterious reticence, indulged in
vague hints and insinuations--played, in short, the part of a man who
revelled in feigning fear. The possession of this revolver gave
him immense importance, placed him definitely amongst the dangerous
characters of Paris. Sometimes, when he was safe inside his stall, he
would consent to take it out of his pocket, and exhibit it to two or
three of the women. He made them stand before him so as to conceal him
with their petticoats, and then he brandished the weapon, cocked the
lock, caused the breech to revolve, and took aim at one of the geese or
turkeys that were hanging in the stall. He was immensely delighted at
the alarm manifested by the women; but eventually reassured them by
stating that the revolver was not loaded. However, he carried a supply
of cartridges about with him, in a case which he opened with the most
elaborate precautions. When he had allowed his friends to feel
the weight of the cartridges, he would again place both weapon and
ammunition in his pockets. And afterwards, crossing his arms over his
breast, he would chatter away jubilantly for hours.

“A man’s a man when he’s got a weapon like that,” he would say with a
swaggering air. “I don’t care a fig now for the gendarmes. A friend and
I went to try it last Sunday on the plain of Saint Denis. Of course,
you know, a man doesn’t tell everyone that he’s got a plaything of that
sort. But, ah! my dears, we fired at a tree, and hit it every time. Ah,
you’ll see, you’ll see. You’ll hear of Anatole one of these days, I can
tell you.”

He had bestowed the name of Anatole upon the revolver; and he carried
things so far that in a week’s time both weapon and cartridges were
known to all the women in the pavilion. His friendship for Florent
seemed to them suspicious; he was too sleek and rich to be visited with
the hatred that was manifested towards the inspector; still, he lost the
esteem of the shrewder heads amongst his acquaintances, and succeeded in
terrifying the timid ones. This delighted him immensely.

“It is very imprudent for a man to carry firearms about with him,” said
Mademoiselle Saget. “Monsieur Gavard’s revolver will end by playing him
a nasty trick.”

Gavard now showed the most jubilant bearing at Monsieur Lebigre’s.
Florent, since ceasing to take his meals with the Quenus, had come
almost to live in the little “cabinet.” He breakfasted, dined, and
constantly shut himself up there. In fact he had converted the place
almost into a sort of private room of his own, where he left his old
coats and books and papers lying about. Monsieur Lebigre had offered no
objection to these proceedings; indeed, he had even removed one of the
tables to make room for a cushioned bench, on which Florent could
have slept had he felt so inclined. When the inspector manifested any
scruples about taking advantage of Monsieur Lebigre’s kindness, the
latter told him to do as he pleased, saying that the whole house was at
his service. Logre also manifested great friendship for him, and even
constituted himself his lieutenant. He was constantly discussing affairs
with him, rendering an account of the steps he was supposed to take, and
furnishing the names of newly affiliated associates. Logre, indeed, had
now assumed the duties of organiser; on him rested the task of bringing
the various plotters together, forming the different sections, and
weaving each mesh of the gigantic net into which Paris was to fall at
a given signal. Florent meantime remained the leader, the soul of the

However, much as the hunchback seemed to toil, he attained no
appreciable result. Although he had loudly asserted that in each
district of Paris he knew two or three groups of men as determined and
trustworthy as those who met at Monsieur Lebigre’s, he had never yet
given any precise information about them, but had merely mentioned a
name here and there, and recounted stories of endless alleged secret
expeditions, and the wonderful enthusiasm that the people manifested
for the cause. He made a great point of the hand-grasps he had received.
So-and-so, whom he thou’d and thee’d, had squeezed his fingers and
declared he would join them. At the Gros Caillou a big, burly fellow,
who would make a magnificent sectional leader, had almost dislocated
his arm in his enthusiasm; while in the Rue Popincourt a whole group
of working men had embraced him. He declared that at a day’s notice a
hundred thousand active supporters could be gathered together. Each time
that he made his appearance in the little room, wearing an exhausted
air, and dropping with apparent fatigue on the bench, he launched into
fresh variations of his usual reports, while Florent duly took notes of
what he said, and relied on him to realise his many promises. And soon
in Florent’s pockets the plot assumed life. The notes were looked upon
as realities, as indisputable facts, upon which the entire plan of the
rising was constructed. All that now remained to be done was to wait
for a favourable opportunity, and Logre asserted with passionate
gesticulations that the whole thing would go on wheels.

Florent was at last perfectly happy. His feet no longer seemed to tread
the ground; he was borne aloft by his burning desire to pass sentence on
all the wickedness he had seen committed. He had all the credulity of a
little child, all the confidence of a hero. If Logre had told him that
the Genius of Liberty perched on the Colonne de Juillet[*] would have
come down and set itself at their head, he would hardly have expressed
any surprise. In the evenings, at Monsieur Lebigre’s, he showed great
enthusiasm and spoke effusively of the approaching battle, as though it
were a festival to which all good and honest folks would be invited. But
although Gavard in his delight began to play with his revolver, Charvet
got more snappish than ever, and sniggered and shrugged his shoulders.
His rival’s assumption of the leadership angered him extremely; indeed,
quite disgusted him with politics. One evening when, arriving early,
he happened to find himself alone with Logre and Lebigre, he frankly
unbosomed himself.

     [*] The column erected on the Place de la Bastille in memory
     of the Revolution of July 1830, by which Charles X was

“Why,” said he, “that fellow Florent hasn’t an idea about politics,
and would have done far better to seek a berth as writing master in a
ladies’ school! It would be nothing short of a misfortune if he were to
succeed, for, with his visionary social sentimentalities, he would crush
us down beneath his confounded working men! It’s all that, you know,
which ruins the party. We don’t need any more tearful sentimentalists,
humanitarian poets, people who kiss and slobber over each other for the
merest scratch. But he won’t succeed! He’ll just get locked up, and that
will be the end of it.”

Logre and the wine dealer made no remark, but allowed Charvet to talk on
without interruption.

“And he’d have been locked up long ago,” he continued, “if he were
anything as dangerous as he fancies he is. The airs he puts on just
because he’s been to Cayenne are quite sickening. But I’m sure that the
police knew of his return the very first day he set foot in Paris, and
if they haven’t interfered with him it’s simply because they hold him in

At this Logre gave a slight start.

“They’ve been dogging me for the last fifteen years,” resumed the
Hebertist, with a touch of pride, “but you don’t hear me proclaiming it
from the house-tops. However, he won’t catch me taking part in his riot.
I’m not going to let myself be nabbed like a mere fool. I dare say he’s
already got half a dozen spies at his heels, who will take him by the
scruff of the neck whenever the authorities give the word.”

“Oh, dear, no! What an idea!” exclaimed Monsieur Lebigre, who usually
observed complete silence. He was rather pale, and looked at Logre, who
was gently rubbing his hump against the partition.

“That’s mere imagination,” murmured the hunchback.

“Very well; call it imagination, if you like,” replied the tutor; “but
I know how these things are arranged. At all events, I don’t mean to
let the ‘coppers’ nab me this time. You others, of course, will please
yourselves, but if you take my advice--and you especially, Monsieur
Lebigre--you’ll take care not to let your establishment be compromised,
or the authorities will close it.”

At this Logre could not restrain a smile. On several subsequent
occasions Charvet plied him and Lebigre with similar arguments, as
though he wished to detach them from Florent’s project by frightening
them; and he was much surprised at the calmness and confidence which
they both continued to manifest. For his own part, he still came pretty
regularly in the evening with Clemence. The tall brunette was no longer
a clerk at the fish auctions--Monsieur Manoury had discharged her.

“Those salesmen are all scoundrels!” Logre growled, when he heard of her

Thereupon Clemence, who, lolling back against the partition, was rolling
a cigarette between her long, slim fingers, replied in a sharp voice:
“Oh, it’s fair fighting! We don’t hold the same political views, you
know. That fellow Manoury, who’s making no end of money, would lick the
Emperor’s boots. For my part, if I were an auctioneer, I wouldn’t keep
him in my service for an hour.”

The truth was that she had been indulging in some clumsy pleasantry,
amusing herself one day by inscribing in the sale-book, alongside of the
dabs and skate and mackerel sold by auction, the names of some of the
best-known ladies and gentlemen of the Court. This bestowal of piscine
names upon high dignitaries, these entries of the sale of duchesses
and baronesses at thirty sous apiece, had caused Monsieur Manoury much
alarm. Gavard was still laughing over it.

“Well, never mind!” said he, patting Clemence’s arm; “you are every inch
a man, you are!”

Clemence had discovered a new method of mixing her grog. She began by
filling her glass with hot water; and after adding some sugar she poured
the rum drop by drop upon the slice of lemon floating on the surface,
in such wise that it did not mix with the water. Then she lighted it and
with a grave expression watched it blaze, slowly smoking her cigarette
while the flame of the alcohol cast a greenish tinge over her face.
“Grog,” however, was an expensive luxury in which she could not afford
to indulge after she had lost her place. Charvet told her, with a
strained laugh, that she was no longer a millionaire. She supported
herself by giving French lessons, at a very early hour in the morning,
to a young lady residing in the Rue de Miromesnil, who was perfecting
her education in secrecy, unknown even to her maid. And so now Clemence
merely ordered a glass of beer in the evenings, but this she drank, it
must be admitted, with the most philosophical composure.

The evenings in the little sanctum were now far less noisy than they had
been. Charvet would suddenly lapse into silence, pale with suppressed
rage, when the others deserted him to listen to his rival. The thought
that he had been the king of the place, had ruled the whole party with
despotic power before Florent’s appearance there, gnawed at his heart,
and he felt all the regretful pangs of a dethroned monarch. If he
still came to the meetings, it was only because he could not resist the
attraction of the little room where he had spent so many happy hours in
tyrannising over Gavard and Robine. In those days even Logre’s hump had
been his property, as well as Alexandre’s fleshy arms and Lacaille’s
gloomy face. He had done what he liked with them, stuffed his opinions
down their throats, belaboured their shoulders with his sceptre. But
now he endured much bitterness of spirit; and ended by quite ceasing
to speak, simply shrugging his shoulders and whistling disdainfully,
without condescending to combat the absurdities vented in his presence.
What exasperated him more than anything else was the gradual way in
which he had been ousted from his position of predominance without
being conscious of it. He could not see that Florent was in any way his
superior, and after hearing the latter speak for hours, in his gentle
and somewhat sad voice, he often remarked: “Why, the fellow’s a parson!
He only wants a cassock!”

The others, however, to all appearance eagerly absorbed whatever the
inspector said. When Charvet saw Florent’s clothes hanging from every
peg, he pretended not to know where he could put his hat so that it
would not be soiled. He swept away the papers that lay about the little
room, declaring that there was no longer any comfort for anyone in
the place since that “gentleman” had taken possession of it. He even
complained to the landlord, and asked if the room belonged to a single
customer or to the whole company. This invasion of his realm was indeed
the last straw. Men were brutes, and he conceived an unspeakable scorn
for humanity when he saw Logre and Monsieur Lebigre fixing their eyes on
Florent with rapt attention. Gavard with his revolver irritated him, and
Robine, who sat silent behind his glass of beer, seemed to him to be the
only sensible person in the company, and one who doubtless judged
people by their real value, and was not led away by mere words. As
for Alexandre and Lacaille, they confirmed him in his belief that
“the people” were mere fools, and would require at least ten years of
revolutionary dictatorship to learn how to conduct themselves.

Logre, however, declared that the sections would soon be completely
organised; and Florent began to assign the different parts that each
would have to play. One evening, after a final discussion in which he
again got worsted, Charvet rose up, took his hat, and exclaimed: “Well,
I’ll wish you all good night. You can get your skulls cracked if it
amuses you; but I would have you understand that I won’t take any part
in the business. I have never abetted anybody’s ambition.”

Clemence, who had also risen and was putting on her shawl, coldly added:
“The plan’s absurd.”

Then, as Robine sat watching their departure with a gentle glance,
Charvet asked him if he were not coming with them; but Robine, having
still some beer left in his glass, contented himself with shaking hands.
Charvet and Clemence never returned again; and Lacaille one day informed
the company that they now frequented a beer-house in the Rue Serpente.
He had seen them through the window, gesticulating with great energy, in
the midst of an attentive group of very young men.

Florent was never able to enlist Claude amongst his supporters. He
had once entertained the idea of gaining him over to his own political
views, of making a disciple of him, an assistant in his revolutionary
task; and in order to initiate him he had taken him one evening to
Monsieur Lebigre’s. Claude, however, spent the whole time in making
a sketch of Robine, in his hat and chestnut cloak, and with his beard
resting on the knob of his walking-stick.

“Really, you know,” he said to Florent, as they came away, “all that you
have been saying inside there doesn’t interest me in the least. It may
be very clever, but, for my own part, I see nothing in it. Still, you’ve
got a splendid fellow there, that blessed Robine. He’s as deep as a
well. I’ll come with you again some other time, but it won’t be for
politics. I shall make sketches of Logre and Gavard, so as to put them
with Robine in a picture which I was thinking about while you were
discussing the question of--what do you call it? eh? Oh, the question
of the two Chambers. Just fancy, now, a picture of Gavard and Logre and
Robine talking politics, entrenched behind their glasses of beer! It
would be the success of the Salon, my dear fellow, an overwhelming
success, a genuine modern picture!”

Florent was grieved by the artist’s political scepticism; so he took him
up to his bedroom, and kept him on the narrow balcony in front of the
bluish mass of the markets, till two o’clock in the morning, lecturing
him, and telling him that he was no man to show himself so indifferent
to the happiness of his country.

“Well, you’re perhaps right,” replied Claude, shaking his head; “I’m an
egotist. I can’t even say that I paint for the good of my country; for,
in the first place, my sketches frighten everybody, and then, when I’m
busy painting, I think about nothing but the pleasure I take in it. When
I’m painting, it is as though I were tickling myself; it makes me laugh
all over my body. Well, I can’t help it, you know; it’s my nature to
be like that; and you can’t expect me to go and drown myself in
consequence. Besides, France can get on very well without me, as my
aunt Lisa says. And--may I be quite frank with you?--if I like you it’s
because you seem to me to follow politics just as I follow painting. You
titillate yourself, my good friend.”

Then, as Florent protested, he continued:

“Yes, yes; you are an artist in your own way; you dream of politics,
and I’ll wager you spend hours here at night gazing at the stars and
imagining they are the voting-papers of infinity. And then you titillate
yourself with your ideas of truth and justice; and this is so evidently
the case that those ideas of yours cause just as much alarm to
commonplace middle-class folks as my sketches do. Between ourselves,
now, do you imagine that if you were Robine I should take any pleasure
in your friendship? Ah, no, my friend, you are a great poet!”

Then he began to joke on the subject, saying that politics caused him no
trouble, and that he had got accustomed to hear people discussing them
in beer shops and studios. This led him to speak of a cafe in the
Rue Vauvilliers; the cafe on the ground-floor of the house where La
Sarriette lodged. This smoky place, with its torn, velvet-cushioned
seats, and marble table-tops discoloured by the drippings from
coffee-cups, was the chief resort of the young people of the markets.
Monsieur Jules reigned there over a company of porters, apprentices,
and gentlemen in white blouses and velvet caps. Two curling “Newgate
knockers” were glued against his temples; and to keep his neck white he
had it scraped with a razor every Saturday at a hair-dresser’s in the
Rue des Deux Ecus. At the cafe he gave the tone to his associates,
especially when he played billiards with studied airs and graces,
showing off his figure to the best advantage. After the game the company
would begin to chat. They were a very reactionary set, taking a delight
in the doings of “society.” For his part, Monsieur Jules read the
lighter boulevardian newspapers, and knew the performers at the smaller
theatres, talked familiarly of the celebrities of the day, and could
always tell whether the piece first performed the previous evening had
been a success or a failure. He had a weakness, however, for politics.
His ideal man was Morny, as he curtly called him. He read the reports of
the discussions of the Corps Legislatif, and laughed with glee over the
slightest words that fell from Morny’s lips. Ah, Morny was the man to
sit upon your rascally republicans! And he would assert that only the
scum detested the Emperor, for his Majesty desired that all respectable
people should have a good time of it.

“I’ve been to the cafe occasionally,” Claude said to Florent. “The young
men there are vastly amusing, with their clay pipes and their talk about
the Court balls! To hear them chatter you might almost fancy they were
invited to the Tuileries. La Sarriette’s young man was making great fun
of Gavard the other evening. He called him uncle. When La Sarriette came
downstairs to look for him she was obliged to pay his bill. It cost her
six francs, for he had lost at billiards, and the drinks they had played
for were owing. And now, good night, my friend, and pleasant dreams. If
ever you become a Minister, I’ll give you some hints on the beautifying
of Paris.”

Florent was obliged to relinquish the hope of making a docile disciple
of Claude. This was a source of grief to him, for, blinded though he
was by his fanatical ardour, he at last grew conscious of the
ever-increasing hostility which surrounded him. Even at the Mehudins’ he
now met with a colder reception: the old woman would laugh slyly; Muche
no longer obeyed him, and the beautiful Norman cast glances of hasty
impatience at him, unable as she was to overcome his coldness. At the
Quenus’, too, he had lost Auguste’s friendship. The assistant no longer
came to see him in his room on the way to bed, being greatly alarmed
by the reports which he heard concerning this man with whom he had
previously shut himself up till midnight. Augustine had made her lover
swear that he would never again be guilty of such imprudence; however,
it was Lisa who turned the young man into Florent’s determined enemy by
begging him and Augustine to defer their marriage till her cousin should
vacate the little bedroom at the top of the house, as she did not want
to give that poky dressing-room on the first floor to the new shop
girl whom she would have to engage. From that time forward Auguste was
anxious that the “convict” should be arrested. He had found such a
pork shop as he had long dreamed of, not at Plaisance certainly, but at
Montrouge, a little farther away. And now trade had much improved, and
Augustine, with her silly, overgrown girl’s laugh, said that she was
quite ready. So every night, whenever some slight noise awoke him,
August was thrilled with delight as he imagined that the police were at
last arresting Florent.

Nothing was said at the Quenu-Gradelles’ about all the rumours which
circulated. There was a tacit understanding amongst the staff of the
pork shop to keep silent respecting them in the presence of Quenu. The
latter, somewhat saddened by the falling-out between his brother and his
wife, sought consolation in stringing his sausages and salting his pork.
Sometimes he would come and stand on his door-step, with his red face
glowing brightly above his white apron, which his increasing corpulence
stretched quite taut, and never did he suspect all the gossip which his
appearance set on foot in the markets. Some of the women pitied him, and
thought that he was losing flesh, though he was, indeed, stouter than
ever; while others, on the contrary, reproached him for not having grown
thin with shame at having such a brother as Florent. He, however, like
one of those betrayed husbands who are always the last to know what
has befallen them, continued in happy ignorance, displaying a
light-heartedness which was quite affecting. He would stop some
neighbour’s wife on the footway to ask her if she found his brawn or
truffled boar’s head to her liking, and she would at once assume a
sympathetic expression, and speak in a condoling way, as though all the
pork on his premises had got jaundice.

“What do they all mean by looking at me with such a funereal air?” he
asked Lisa one day. “Do you think I’m looking ill?”

Lisa, well aware that he was terribly afraid of illness, and groaned
and made a dreadful disturbance if he suffered the slightest ailment,
reassured him on this point, telling him that he was as blooming as
a rose. The fine pork shop, however, was becoming gloomy; the mirrors
seemed to pale, the marbles grew frigidly white, and the cooked meats on
the counter stagnated in yellow fat or lakes of cloudy jelly. One day,
even, Claude came into the shop to tell his aunt that the display in
the window looked quite “in the dumps.” This was really the truth. The
Strasburg tongues on their beds of blue paper-shavings had a melancholy
whiteness of hue, like the tongues of invalids; and the whilom chubby
hams seemed to be wasting away beneath their mournful green top-knots.
Inside the shop, too, when customers asked for a black-pudding or ten
sous’ worth of bacon, or half a pound of lard, they spoke in subdued,
sorrowful voices, as though they were in the bed-chamber of a dying man.
There were always two or three lachrymose women in front of the chilled
heating-pan. Beautiful Lisa meantime discharged the duties of chief
mourner with silent dignity. Her white apron fell more primly than ever
over her black dress. Her hands, scrupulously clean and closely girded
at the wrists by long white sleevelets, her face with its becoming air
of sadness, plainly told all the neighbourhood, all the inquisitive
gossips who streamed into the shop from morning to night, that they, the
Quenu-Gradelles, were suffering from unmerited misfortune, but that she
knew the cause of it, and would triumph over it at last. And sometimes
she stooped to look at the two gold-fish, who also seemed ill at ease
as they swam languidly around the aquarium in the window, and her glance
seemed to promise them better days in the future.

Beautiful Lisa now only allowed herself one indulgence. She fearlessly
patted Marjolin’s satiny chin. The young man had just come out of the
hospital. His skull had healed, and he looked as fat and merry as ever;
but even the little intelligence he had possessed had left him, he was
now quite an idiot. The gash in his skull must have reached his brain,
for he had become a mere animal. The mind of a child of five dwelt in
his sturdy frame. He laughed and stammered, he could no longer pronounce
his words properly, and he was as submissively obedient as a sheep.
Cadine took entire possession of him again; surprised, at first, at the
alteration in him, and then quite delighted at having this big fellow to
do exactly as she liked with. He was her doll, her toy, her slave in
all respects but one: she could not prevent him from going off to Madame
Quenu’s every now and then. She thumped him, but he did not seem to feel
her blows; as soon as she had slung her basket round her neck, and set
off to sell her violets in the Rue du Pont Neuf and the Rue de Turbigo,
he went to prowl about in front of the pork shop.

“Come in!” Lisa cried to him.

She generally gave him some gherkins, of which he was extremely fond;
and he ate them, laughing in a childish way, whilst he stood in front of
the counter. The sight of the handsome mistress of the shop filled him
with rapture; he often clapped his hands with joy and began to jump
about and vent little cries of pleasure, like a child delighted at
something shown to it. On the first few occasions when he came to see
her after leaving the hospital Lisa had feared that he might remember
what had happened.

“Does your head still hurt you?” she asked him.

But he swayed about and burst into a merry laugh as he answered no; and
then Lisa gently inquired: “You had a fall, hadn’t you?”

“Yes, a fall, fall, fall,” he sang, in a happy voice, tapping his skull
the while.

Then, as though he were in a sort of ecstasy, he continued in lingering
notes, as he gazed at Lisa, “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!” This
quite touched Madame Quenu. She had prevailed upon Gavard to keep him
in his service. It was on the occasions when he so humbly vented his
admiration that she caressed his chin, and told him that he was a good
lad. He smiled with childish satisfaction, at times closing his eyes
like some domestic pet fondled by its mistress; and Lisa thought to
herself that she was making him some compensation for the blow with
which she had felled him in the cellar of the poultry market.

However, the Quenus’ establishment still remained under a cloud. Florent
sometimes ventured to show himself, and shook hands with his brother,
while Lisa observed a frigid silence. He even dined with them sometimes
on Sundays, at long intervals, and Quenu then made great efforts at
gaiety, but could not succeed in imparting any cheerfulness to the meal.
He ate badly, and ended by feeling altogether put out. One evening,
after one of these icy family gatherings, he said to his wife with tears
in his eyes:

“What can be the matter with me? Is it true that I’m not ill? Don’t you
really see anything wrong in my appearance? I feel just as though I’d
got a heavy weight somewhere inside me. And I’m so sad and depressed,
too, without in the least knowing why. What can it be, do you think?”

“Oh, a little attack of indigestion, I dare say,” replied Lisa.

“No, no; it’s been going on too long for that; I feel quite crushed
down. Yet the business is going on all right; I’ve no great worries, and
I am leading just the same steady life as ever. But you, too, my dear,
don’t look well; you seem melancholy. If there isn’t a change for the
better soon, I shall send for the doctor.”

Lisa looked at him with a grave expression.

“There’s no need of a doctor,” she said, “things will soon be all right
again. There’s something unhealthy in the atmosphere just now. All the
neighbourhood is unwell.” Then, as if yielding to an impulse of anxious
affection, she added: “Don’t worry yourself, my dear. I can’t have you
falling ill; that would be the crowning blow.”

As a rule she sent him back to the kitchen, knowing that the noise of
the choppers, the tuneful simmering of the fat, and the bubbling of the
pans had a cheering effect upon him. In this way, too, she kept him at
a distance from the indiscreet chatter of Mademoiselle Saget, who now
spent whole mornings in the shop. The old maid seemed bent on arousing
Lisa’s alarm, and thus driving her to some extreme step. She began by
trying to obtain her confidence.

“What a lot of mischievous folks there are about!” she exclaimed; “folks
who would be much better employed in minding their own business. If you
only knew, my dear Madame Quenu--but no, really, I should never dare to
repeat such things to you.”

And, as Madame Quenu replied that she was quite indifferent to gossip,
and that it had no effect upon her, the old maid whispered into her ear
across the counter: “Well, people say, you know, that Monsieur Florent
isn’t your cousin at all.”

Then she gradually allowed Lisa to see that she knew the whole story; by
way of proving that she had her quite at her mercy. When Lisa confessed
the truth, equally as a matter of diplomacy, in order that she might
have the assistance of some one who would keep her well posted in all
the gossip of the neighbourhood, the old maid swore that for her own
part she would be as mute as a fish, and deny the truth of the reports
about Florent, even if she were to be led to the stake for it. And
afterwards this drama brought her intense enjoyment; every morning she
came to the shop with some fresh piece of disturbing news.

“You must be careful,” she whispered one day; “I have just heard two
women in the tripe market talking about you know what. I can’t interrupt
people and tell them they are lying, you know. It would look so strange.
But the story’s got about, and it’s spreading farther every day. It
can’t be stopped now, I fear; the truth will have to come out.”

A few days later she returned to the assault in all earnest. She made
her appearance looking quite scared, and waited impatiently till there
was no one in the shop, when she burst out in her sibilant voice:

“Do you know what people are saying now? Well, they say that all those
men who meet at Monsieur Lebigre’s have got guns, and are going to
break out again as they did in ‘48. It’s quite distressing to see such
a worthy man as Monsieur Gavard--rich, too, and so respectable--leaguing
himself with such scoundrels! I was very anxious to let you know, on
account of your brother-in-law.”

“Oh, it’s mere nonsense, I’m sure; it can’t be serious,” rejoined Lisa,
just to incite the old maid to tell her more.

“Not serious, indeed! Why, when one passes along the Rue Pirouette in
the evening one can hear them screaming out in the most dreadful way.
Oh! they make no mystery of it all. You know yourself how they tried to
corrupt your husband. And the cartridges which I have seen them making
from my own window, are they mere nonsense? Well, well, I’m only telling
you this for your own good.”

“Oh! I’m sure of that, and I’m very much obliged to you,” replied Lisa;
“but people do invent such stories, you know.”

“Ah, but this is no invention, unfortunately. The whole neighbourhood is
talking of it. It is said, too, that if the police discover the matter
there will be a great many people compromised--Monsieur Gavard, for

Madame Quenu shrugged her shoulders as though to say that Monsieur
Gavard was an old fool, and that it would do him good to be locked up.

“Well, I merely mention Monsieur Gavard as I might mention any of the
others, your brother-in-law, for instance,” resumed the old maid with a
wily glance. “Your brother-in-law is the leader, it seems. That’s very
annoying for you, and I’m very sorry indeed; for if the police were to
make a descent here they might march Monsieur Quenu off as well. Two
brothers, you know, they’re like two fingers of the same hand.”

Beautiful Lisa protested against this, but she turned very pale, for
Mademoiselle Saget’s last thrust had touched a vulnerable point. From
that day forward the old maid was ever bringing her stories of innocent
people who had been thrown into prison for extending hospitality to
criminal scoundrels. In the evening, when La Saget went to get her
black-currant syrup at the wine dealer’s, she prepared her budget for
the next morning. Rose was but little given to gossiping, and the old
main reckoned chiefly on her own eyes and ears. She had been struck by
Monsieur Lebigre’s extremely kind and obliging manner towards Florent,
his eagerness to keep him at his establishment, all the polite
civilities, for which the little money which the other spent in the
house could never recoup him. And this conduct of Monsieur Lebigre’s
surprised her the more as she was aware of the position in which the two
men stood in respect to the beautiful Norman.

“It looks as though Lebigre were fattening him up for sale,” she
reflected. “Whom can he want to sell him to, I wonder?”

One evening when she was in the bar she saw Logre fling himself on the
bench in the sanctum, and heard him speak of his perambulations through
the faubourgs, with the remark that he was dead beat. She cast a hasty
glance at his feet, and saw that there was not a speck of dust on his
boots. Then she smiled quietly, and went off with her black-currant
syrup, her lips closely compressed.

She used to complete her budget of information on getting back to her
window. It was very high up, commanding a view of all the neighbouring
houses, and proved a source of endless enjoyment to her. She was
constantly installed at it, as though it were an observatory from which
she kept watch upon everything that went on in the neighbourhood. She
was quite familiar with all the rooms opposite her, both on the right
and the left, even to the smallest details of their furniture. She could
have described, without the least omission, the habits of their tenants,
have related if the latter’s homes were happy or the contrary, have told
when and how they washed themselves, what they had for dinner, and
who it was that came to see them. Then she obtained a side view of the
markets, and not a woman could walk along the Rue Rambuteau without
being seen by her; and she could have correctly stated whence the woman
had come and whither she was going, what she had got in her basket,
and, in short, every detail about her, her husband, her clothes, her
children, and her means. “That’s Madame Loret, over there; she’s giving
her son a fine education; that’s Madame Hutin, a poor little woman who’s
dreadfully neglected by her husband; that’s Mademoiselle Cecile,
the butcher’s daughter, a girl that no one will marry because
she’s scrofulous.” In this way she could have continued jerking out
biographical scraps for days together, deriving extraordinary amusement
from the most trivial, uninteresting incidents. However, as soon as
eight o’clock struck, she only had eyes for the frosted “cabinet” window
on which appeared the black shadows of the coterie of politicians. She
discovered the secession of Charvet and Clemence by missing their bony
silhouettes from the milky transparency. Not an incident occurred in
that room but she sooner or later learnt it by some sudden motion of
those silent arms and heads. She acquired great skill in interpretation,
and could divine the meaning of protruding noses, spreading fingers,
gaping mouths, and shrugging shoulders; and in this way she followed
the progress of the conspiracy step by step, in such wise that she could
have told day by day how matters stood. One evening the terrible outcome
of it all was revealed to her. She saw the shadow of Gavard’s revolver,
a huge silhouette with pointed muzzle showing very blackly against the
glimmering window. It kept appearing and disappearing so rapidly that it
seemed as though the room was full of revolvers. Those were the firearms
of which Mademoiselle Saget had spoken to Madame Quenu. On another
evening she was much puzzled by the sight of endless lengths of some
material or other, and came to the conclusion that the men must be
manufacturing cartridges. The next morning, however, she made her
appearance in the wine shop by eleven o’clock, on the pretext of asking
Rose if she could let her have a candle, and, glancing furtively into
the little sanctum, she espied a heap of red material lying on the
table. This greatly alarmed her, and her next budget of news was one of
decisive gravity.

“I don’t want to alarm you, Madame Quenu,” she said, “but matters are
really looking very serious. Upon my word, I’m quite alarmed. You must
on no account repeat what I am going to confide to you. They would
murder me if they knew I had told you.”

Then, when Lisa had sworn to say nothing that might compromise her, she
told her about the red material.

“I can’t think what it can be. There was a great heap of it. It looked
just like rags soaked in blood. Logre, the hunchback, you know, put one
of the pieces over his shoulder. He looked like a headsman. You may be
sure this is some fresh trickery or other.”

Lisa made no reply, but seemed deep in thought whilst with lowered eyes,
she handled a fork and mechanically arranged some piece of salt pork on
a dish.

“If I were you,” resumed Mademoiselle Saget softly, “I shouldn’t be easy
in mind; I should want to know the meaning of it all. Why shouldn’t you
go upstairs and examine your brother-in-law’s bedroom?”

At this Lisa gave a slight start, let the fork drop, and glanced
uneasily at the old maid, believing that she had discovered her
intentions. But the other continued: “You would certainly be justified
in doing so. There’s no knowing into what danger your brother-in-law may
lead you, if you don’t put a check on him. They were talking about you
yesterday at Madame Taboureau’s. Ah! you have a most devoted friend in
her. Madame Taboureau said that you were much too easy-going, and that
if she were you she would have put an end to all this long ago.”

“Madame Taboureau said that?” murmured Lisa thoughtfully.

“Yes, indeed she did; and Madame Taboureau is a woman whose advice is
worth listening to. Try to find out the meaning of all those red bands;
and if you do, you’ll tell me, won’t you?”

Lisa, however, was no longer listening to her. She was gazing
abstractedly at the edible snails and Gervais cheeses between the
festoons of sausages in the window. She seemed absorbed in a mental
conflict, which brought two little furrows to her brow. The old maid,
however, poked her nose over the dishes on the counter.

“Ah, some slices of saveloy!” she muttered, as though she were
speaking to herself. “They’ll get very dry cut up like that. And that
black-pudding’s broken, I see--a fork’s been stuck into it, I expect. It
might be taken away--it’s soiling the dish.”

Lisa, still absent-minded, gave her the black-pudding and slices of
saveloy. “You may take them,” she said, “if you would care for them.”

The black bag swallowed them up. Mademoiselle Saget was so accustomed
to receiving presents that she had actually ceased to return thanks for
them. Every morning she carried away all the scraps of the pork shop.
And now she went off with the intention of obtaining her dessert from La
Sarriette and Madame Lecoeur, by gossiping to them about Gavard.

When Lisa was alone again she installed herself on the bench, behind the
counter, as though she thought she would be able to come to a sounder
decision if she were comfortably seated. For the last week she had
been very anxious. Florent had asked Quenu for five hundred francs one
evening, in the easy, matter-of-course way of a man who had money lying
to his credit at the pork shop. Quenu referred him to his wife. This
was distasteful to Florent, who felt somewhat uneasy on applying to
beautiful Lisa. But she immediately went up to her bedroom, brought
the money down and gave it to him, without saying a word, or making the
least inquiry as to what he intended to do with it. She merely remarked
that she had made a note of the payment on the paper containing the
particulars of Florent’s share of the inheritance. Three days later he
took a thousand francs.

“It was scarcely worth while trying to make himself out so
disinterested,” Lisa said to Quenu that night, as they went to bed. “I
did quite right, you see, in keeping the account. By the way, I haven’t
noted down the thousand francs I gave him to-day.”

She sat down at the secretaire, and glanced over the page of figures.
Then she added: “I did well to leave a blank space. I’ll put down what
I pay him on the margin. You’ll see, now, he’ll fritter it all away by
degrees. That’s what I’ve been expecting for a long time past.”

Quenu said nothing, but went to bed feeling very much put out. Every
time that his wife opened the secretaire the drawer gave out a mournful
creak which pierced his heart. He even thought of remonstrating with
his brother, and trying to prevent him from ruining himself with the
Mehudins; but when the time came, he did not dare to do it. Two days
later Florent asked for another fifteen hundred francs. Logre had said
one evening that things would ripen much faster if they could only get
some money. The next day he was enchanted to find these words of his,
uttered quite at random, result in the receipt of a little pile of
gold, which he promptly pocketed, sniggering as he did so, and his hunch
fairly shaking with delight. From that time forward money was constantly
being needed: one section wished to hire a room where they could meet,
while another was compelled to provide for various needy patriots. Then
there were arms and ammunition to be purchased, men to be enlisted, and
private police expenses. Florent would have paid for anything. He
had bethought himself of Uncle Gradelle’s treasure, and recalled La
Normande’s advice. So he made repeated calls upon Lisa’s secretaire,
being merely kept in check by the vague fear with which his
sister-in-law’s grave face inspired him. Never, thought he, could
he have spent his money in a holier cause. Logre now manifested
the greatest enthusiasm, and wore the most wonderful rose-coloured
neckerchiefs and the shiniest of varnished boots, the sight of which
made Lacaille glower blackly.

“That makes three thousand francs in seven days,” Lisa remarked to
Quenu. “What do you think of that? A pretty state of affairs, isn’t
it? If he goes on at this rate his fifty thousand francs will last him
barely four months. And yet it took old Gradelle forty years to put his
fortune together!”

“It’s all your own fault!” cried Quenu. “There was no occasion for you
to say anything to him about the money.”

Lisa gave her husband a severe glance. “It is his own,” she said; “and
he is entitled to take it all. It’s not the giving him the money that
vexes me, but the knowledge that he must make a bad use of it. I tell
you again, as I have been telling you for a long time past, all this
must come to an end.”

“Do whatever you like; I won’t prevent you,” at last exclaimed the pork
butcher, who was tortured by his cupidity.

He still loved his brother; but the thought of fifty thousand francs
squandered in four months was agony to him. As for his wife, after all
Mademoiselle Saget’s chattering she guessed what became of the money.
The old maid having ventured to refer to the inheritance, Lisa had taken
advantage of the opportunity to let the neighbourhood know that Florent
was drawing his share, and spending it after his own fashion.

It was on the following day that the story of the strips of red material
impelled Lisa to take definite actin. For a few moments she remained
struggling with herself whilst gazing at the depressed appearance of the
shop. The sides of pork hung all around in a sullen fashion, and Mouton,
seated beside a bowl of fat, displayed the ruffled coat and dim eyes of
a cat who no longer digests his meals in peace. Thereupon Lisa called to
Augustine and told her to attend to the counter, and she herself went up
to Florent’s room.

When she entered it, she received quite a shock. The bed, hitherto so
spotless, was quite ensanguined by a bundle of long red scarves dangling
down to the floor. On the mantelpiece, between the gilt cardboard boxes
and the old pomatum-pots, were several red armlets and clusters of red
cockades, looking like pools of blood. And hanging from every nail and
peg against the faded grey wallpaper were pieces of bunting, square
flags--yellow, blue, green, and black--in which Lisa recognised the
distinguishing banners of the twenty sections. The childish simplicity
of the room seemed quite scared by all this revolutionary decoration.
The aspect of guileless stupidity which the shop girl had left behind
her, the white innocence of the curtains and furniture, now glared
as with the reflection of a fire; while the photograph of Auguste
and Augustine looked white with terror. Lisa walked round the room,
examining the flags, the armlets, and the scarves, without touching any
of them, as though she feared that the dreadful things might burn her.
She was reflecting that she had not been mistaken, that it was indeed on
these and similar things that Florent’s money had been spent. And to her
this seemed an utter abomination, an incredibility which set her whole
being surging with indignation. To think that her money, that money
which had been so honestly earned, was being squandered to organise and
defray the expenses of an insurrection!

She stood there, gazing at the expanded blossoms of the pomegranate on
the balcony--blossoms which seemed to her like an additional supply of
crimson cockades--and listening to the sharp notes of the chaffinch,
which resembled the echo of a distant fusillade. And then it struck her
that the insurrection might break out the next day, or perhaps that very
evening. She fancied she could see the banners streaming in the air and
the scarves advancing in line, while a sudden roll of drums broke on her
ear. Then she hastily went downstairs again, without even glancing
at the papers which were lying on the table. She stopped on the first
floor, went into her own room, and dressed herself.

In this critical emergency Lisa arranged her hair with scrupulous care
and perfect calmness. She was quite resolute; not a quiver of hesitation
disturbed her; but a sterner expression than usual had come into her
eyes. As she fastened her black silk dress, straining the waistband with
all the strength of her fingers, she recalled Abbe Roustan’s words; and
she questioned herself, and her conscience answered that she was going
to fulfil a duty. By the time she drew her broidered shawl round her
broad shoulders, she felt that she was about to perform a deed of high
morality. She put on a pair of dark mauve gloves, secured a thick
veil to her bonnet; and before leaving the room she double-locked the
secretaire, with a hopeful expression on her face which seemed to say
that that much worried piece of furniture would at last be able to sleep
in peace again.

Quenu was exhibiting his white paunch at the shop door when his wife
came down. He was surprised to see her going out in full dress at ten
o’clock in the morning. “Hallo! Where are you off to?” he asked.

She pretended that she was going out with Madame Taboureau, and added
that she would call at the Gaite Theatre to buy some tickets. Quenu
hurried after her to tell her to secure some front seats, so that they
might be able to see well. Then, as he returned to the shop, Lisa made
her way to the cab-stand opposite St. Eustache, got into a cab, pulled
down the blinds, and told the driver to go to the Gaite Theatre. She
felt afraid of being followed. When she had booked two seats, however,
she directed the cabman to drive her to the Palais de Justice. There,
in front of the gate, she discharged him, and then quietly made her way
through the halls and corridors to the Prefecture of Police.

She soon lost herself in a noisy crowd of police officers and gentlemen
in long frock-coats, but at last gave a man half a franc to guide her to
the Prefect’s rooms. She found, however, that the Prefect only received
such persons as came with letters of audience; and she was shown into a
small apartment, furnished after the style of a boarding-house parlour.
A fat, bald-headed official, dressed in black from head to foot,
received her there with sullen coldness. What was her business? he
inquired. Thereupon she raised her veil, gave her name, and told her
story, clearly and distinctly, without a pause. The bald man listened
with a weary air.

“You are this man’s sister-in-law, are you not?” he inquired, when she
had finished.

“Yes,” Lisa candidly replied. “We are honest, straight-forward people,
and I am anxious that my husband should not be compromised.”

The official shrugged his shoulders, as though to say that the whole
affair was a great nuisance.

“Do you know,” he said impatiently, “that I have been pestered with this
business for more than a year past? Denunciation after denunciation has
been sent to me, and I am being continually goaded and pressed to take
action. You will understand that if I haven’t done so as yet, it is
because I prefer to wait. We have good reasons for our conduct in the
matter. Stay, now, here are the papers relating to it. I’ll let you see

He laid before her an immense collection of papers in a blue wrapper.
Lisa turned them over. They were like detached chapters of the story she
had just been relating. The commissaires of police at Havre, Rouen, and
Vernon notified Florent’s arrival within their respective jurisdictions.
Then came a report which announced that he had taken up his residence
with the Quenu-Gradelles. Next followed his appointment at the markets,
an account of his mode of life, the spending of his evenings at Monsieur
Lebigre’s; not a detail was deficient. Lisa, quite astounded as she
was, noticed that the reports were in duplicate, so that they must have
emanated from two different sources. And at last she came upon a pile of
letters, anonymous letters of every shape, and in every description of
handwriting. They brought her amazement to a climax. In one letter she
recognised the villainous hand of Mademoiselle Saget, denouncing the
people who met in the little sanctum at Lebigre’s. On a large piece of
greasy paper she identified the heavy pot-hooks of Madame Lecoeur;
and there was also a sheet of cream-laid note-paper, ornamented with a
yellow pansy, and covered with the scrawls of La Sarriette and Monsieur
Jules. These two letters warned the Government to beware of Gavard.
Farther on Lisa recognised the coarse style of old Madame Mehudin, who
in four pages of almost indecipherable scribble repeated all the wild
stories about Florent that circulated in the markets. However, what
startled her more than anything else was the discovery of a bill-head
of her own establishment, with the inscription _Quenu-Gradelle, Pork
Butcher_, on its face, whilst on the back of it Auguste had penned
a denunciation of the man whom he looked upon as an obstacle to his

The official had acted upon a secret idea in placing these papers before
her. “You don’t recognise any of these handwritings, do you?” he asked.

“No,” she stammered, rising from her seat, quite oppressed by what she
had just learned; and she hastily pulled down her veil again to conceal
the blush of confusion which was rising to her cheeks. Her silk dress
rustled, and her dark gloves disappeared beneath her heavy shawl.

“You see, madame,” said the bald man with a faint smile, “your
information comes a little late. But I promise you that your visit shall
not be forgotten. And tell your husband not to stir. It is possible that
something may happen soon that----”

He did not complete his sentence, but, half rising from his armchair,
made a slight bow to Lisa. It was a dismissal, and she took her leave.
In the ante-room she caught sight of Logre and Monsieur Lebigre, who
hastily turned their faces away; but she was more disturbed than they
were. She went her way through the halls and along the corridors,
feeling as if she were in the clutches of this system of police which,
it now seemed to her, saw and knew everything. At last she came out upon
the Place Dauphine. When she reached the Quai de l’Horloge she slackened
her steps, and felt refreshed by the cool breeze blowing from the Seine.

She now had a keen perception of the utter uselessness of what she had
done. Her husband was in no danger whatever; and this thought,
whilst relieving her, left her a somewhat remorseful feeling. She
was exasperated with Auguste and the women who had put her in such a
ridiculous position. She walked on yet more slowly, watching the Seine
as it flowed past. Barges, black with coal-dust, were floating down the
greenish water; and all along the bank anglers were casting their lines.
After all, it was not she who had betrayed Florent. This reflection
suddenly occurred to her and astonished her. Would she have been guilty
of a wicked action, then, if she had been his betrayer? She was quite
perplexed; surprised at the possibility of her conscience having
deceived her. Those anonymous letters seemed extremely base. She herself
had gone openly to the authorities, given her name, and saved innocent
people from being compromised. Then at the sudden thought of old
Gradelle’s fortune she again examined herself, and felt ready to throw
the money into the river if such a course should be necessary to
remove the blight which had fallen on the pork shop. No, she was not
avaricious, she was sure she wasn’t; it was no thought of money that
had prompted her in what she had just done. As she crossed the Pont au
Change she grew quite calm again, recovering all her superb equanimity.
On the whole, it was much better, she felt, that others should have
anticipated her at the Prefecture. She would not have to deceive Quenu,
and she would sleep with an easier conscience.

“Have you booked the seats?” Quenu asked her when she returned home.

He wanted to see the tickets, and made Lisa explain to him the exact
position the seats occupied in the dress-circle. Lisa had imagined
that the police would make a descent upon the house immediately after
receiving her information, and her proposal to go to the theatre had
only been a wily scheme for getting Quenu out of the way while the
officers were arresting Florent. She had contemplated taking him for
an outing in the afternoon--one of those little jaunts which they
occasionally allowed themselves. They would then drive in an open cab to
the Bois de Boulogne, dine at a restaurant, and amuse themselves for an
hour or two at some cafe concern. But there was no need to go out now,
she thought; so she spent the rest of the day behind her counter, with
a rosy glow on her face, and seeming brighter and gayer, as though she
were recovering from some indisposition.

“You see, I told you it was fresh air you wanted!” exclaimed Quenu.
“Your walk this morning has brightened you up wonderfully!”

“No, indeed,” she said after a pause, again assuming her look of
severity; “the streets of Paris are not at all healthy places.”

In the evening they went to the Gaite to see the performance of “La
Grace de Dieu.” Quenu, in a frock-coat and drab gloves, with his hair
carefully pomatumed and combed, was occupied most of the time in hunting
for the names of the performers in the programme. Lisa looked superb
in her low dress as she rested her hands in their tight-fitting white
gloves on the crimson velvet balustrade. They were both of them deeply
affected by the misfortunes of Marie. The commander, they thought, was
certainly a desperate villain; while Pierrot made them laugh from the
first moment of his appearance on the stage. But at last Madame Quenu
cried. The departure of the child, the prayer in the maiden’s chamber,
the return of the poor mad creature, moistened her eyes with gentle
tears, which she brushed away with her handkerchief.

However, the pleasure which the evening afforded her turned into a
feeling of triumph when she caught sight of La Normande and her mother
sitting in the upper gallery. She thereupon puffed herself out more than
ever, sent Quenu off to the refreshment bar for a box of caramels, and
began to play with her fan, a mother-of-pearl fan, elaborately gilt.
The fish-girl was quite crushed; and bent her head down to listen to
her mother, who was whispering to her. When the performance was over
and beautiful Lisa and the beautiful Norman met in the vestibule they
exchanged a vague smile.

Florent had dined early at Monsieur Lebigre’s that day. He was expecting
Logre, who had promised to introduce to him a retired sergeant, a
capable man, with whom they were to discuss the plan of attack upon the
Palais Bourbon and the Hotel de Ville. The night closed in, and the
fine rain, which had begun to fall in the afternoon, shrouded the vast
markets in a leaden gloom. They loomed darkly against the copper-tinted
sky, while wisps of murky cloud skimmed by almost on a level with the
roofs, looking as though they were caught and torn by the points of the
lightning-conductors. Florent felt depressed by the sight of the muddy
streets, and the streaming yellowish rain which seemed to sweep the
twilight away and extinguish it in the mire. He watched the crowds of
people who had taken refuge on the foot-pavements of the covered ways,
the umbrellas flitting past in the downpour, and the cabs that dashed
with increased clatter and speed along the wellnigh deserted roads.
Presently there was a rift in the clouds; and a red glow arose in the
west. Then a whole army of street-sweepers came into sight at the end of
the Rue Montmartre, driving a lake of liquid mud before them with their

Logre did not turn up with the sergeant; Gavard had gone to dine with
some friends at Batignolles, and so Florent was reduced to spending the
evening alone with Robine. He had all the talking to himself, and ended
by feeling very low-spirited. His companion merely wagged his beard, and
stretched out his hand every quarter of an hour to raise his glass of
beer to his lips. At last Florent grew so bored that he went off to
bed. Robine, however, though left to himself, still lingered there,
contemplating his glass with an expression of deep thought. Rose and the
waiter, who had hoped to shut up early, as the coterie of politicians
was absent, had to wait a long half hour before he at last made up his
mind to leave.

When Florent got to his room, he felt afraid to go to bed. He was
suffering from one of those nervous attacks which sometimes plunged him
into horrible nightmares until dawn. On the previous day he had been to
Clamart to attend the funeral of Monsieur Verlaque, who had died after
terrible sufferings; and he still felt sad at the recollection of the
narrow coffin which he had seen lowered into the earth. Nor could he
banish from his mind the image of Madame Verlaque, who, with a tearful
voice, though there was not a tear in her eyes, kept following him and
speaking to him about the coffin, which was not paid for, and of the
cost of the funeral, which she was quite at a loss about, as she had
not a copper in the place, for the druggist, on hearing of her husband’s
death on the previous day, had insisted upon his bill being paid. So
Florent had been obliged to advance the money for the coffin and other
funeral expenses, and had even given the gratuities to the mutes.
Just as he was going away, Madame Verlaque looked at him with such a
heartbroken expression that he left her twenty francs.

And now Monsieur Verlaque’s death worried him very much. It affected
his situation in the markets. He might lose his berth, or perhaps
be formally appointed inspector. In either case he foresaw vexatious
complications which might arouse the suspicions of the police. He would
have been delighted if the insurrection could have broken out the very
next day, so that he might at once have tossed the laced cap of his
inspectorship into the streets. With his mind full of harassing thoughts
like these, he stepped out upon the balcony, as though soliciting of the
warm night some whiff of air to cool his fevered brow. The rain had
laid the wind, and a stormy heat still reigned beneath the deep blue,
cloudless heavens. The markets, washed by the downpour, spread out below
him, similar in hue to the sky, and, like the sky, studded with the
yellow stars of their gas lamps.

Leaning on the iron balustrade, Florent recollected that sooner or later
he would certainly be punished for having accepted the inspectorship. It
seemed to lie like a stain on his life. He had become an official of the
Prefecture, forswearing himself, serving the Empire in spite of all
the oaths he had taken in his exile. His anxiety to please Lisa, the
charitable purpose to which he had devoted the salary he received, the
just and scrupulous manner in which he had always struggled to carry
out his duties, no longer seemed to him valid excuses for his base
abandonment of principle. If he had suffered in the midst of all that
sleek fatness, he had deserved to suffer. And before him arose a
vision of the evil year which he had just spent, his persecution by the
fish-wives, the sickening sensations he had felt on close, damp days,
the continuous indigestion which had afflicted his delicate stomach, and
the latent hostility which was gathering strength against him. All these
things he now accepted as chastisement. That dull rumbling of hostility
and spite, the cause of which he could not divine, must forebode some
coming catastrophe before whose approach he already stooped, with the
shame of one who knows there is a transgression that he must expiate.
Then he felt furious with himself as he thought of the popular rising he
was preparing; and reflected that he was no longer unsullied enough to
achieve success.

In how many dreams he had indulged in that lofty little room, with his
eyes wandering over the spreading roofs of the market pavilions! They
usually appeared to him like grey seas that spoke to him of far-off
countries. On moonless nights they would darken and turn into stagnant
lakes of black and pestilential water. But on bright nights they became
shimmering fountains of light, the moonbeams streaming over both tiers
like water, gliding along the huge plates of zinc, and flowing over the
edges of the vast superposed basins. Then frosty weather seemed to turn
these roofs into rigid ice, like the Norwegian bays over which skaters
skim; while the warm June nights lulled them into deep sleep. One
December night, on opening his window, he had seen them white with snow,
so lustrously white that they lighted up the coppery sky. Unsullied by
a single footstep, they then stretched out like the lonely plains of the
Far North, where never a sledge intrudes. Their silence was beautiful,
their soft peacefulness suggestive of innocence.

And at each fresh aspect of the ever-changing panorama before him,
Florent yielded to dreams which were now sweet, now full of bitter pain.
The snow calmed him; the vast sheet of whiteness seemed to him like a
veil of purity thrown over the filth of the markets. The bright, clear
nights, the shimmering moonbeams, carried him away into the fairy-land
of story-books. It was only the dark, black nights, the burning nights
of June, when he beheld, as it were, a miasmatic marsh, the stagnant
water of a dead and accursed sea, that filled him with gloom and grief;
and then ever the same dreadful visions haunted his brain.

The markets were always there. He could never open the window and rest
his elbows on the balustrade without having them before him, filling
the horizon. He left the pavilions in the evening only to behold their
endless roofs as he went to bed. They shut him off from the rest of
Paris, ceaselessly intruded their huge bulk upon him, entered into every
hour of his life. That night again horrible fancies came to him, fancies
aggravated by the vague forebodings of evil which distressed him. The
rain of the afternoon had filled the markets with malodorous dampness,
and as they wallowed there in the centre of the city, like some drunken
man lying, after his last bottle, under the table, they cast all their
foul breath into his face. He seemed to see a thick vapour rising up
from each pavilion. In the distance the meat and tripe markets reeked
with the sickening steam of blood; nearer in, the vegetable and fruit
pavilions diffused the odour of pungent cabbages, rotten apples, and
decaying leaves; the butter and cheese exhaled a poisonous stench; from
the fish market came a sharp, fresh gust; while from the ventilator in
the tower of the poultry pavilion just below him, he could see a warm
steam issuing, a fetid current rising in coils like the sooty smoke from
a factory chimney. And all these exhalations coalesced above the roofs,
drifted towards the neighbouring houses, and spread themselves out in
a heavy cloud which stretched over the whole of Paris. It was as though
the markets were bursting within their tight belt of iron, were beating
the slumber of the gorged city with the stertorous fumes of their
midnight indigestion.

However, on the footway down below Florent presently heard a sound of
voices, the laughter of happy folks. Then the door of the passage was
closed noisily. It was Quenu and Lisa coming home from the theatre.
Stupefied and intoxicated, as it were, by the atmosphere he was
breathing, Florent thereupon left the balcony, his nerves still
painfully excited by the thought of the tempest which he could feel
gathering round his head. The source of his misery was yonder, in
those markets, heated by the day’s excesses. He closed the window with
violence, and left them wallowing in the darkness, naked and perspiring
beneath the stars.


A week later, Florent thought that he would at last be able to proceed
to action. A sufficiently serious outburst of public dissatisfaction
furnished an opportunity for launching his insurrectionary forces
upon Paris. The Corps Legislatif, whose members had lately shown great
variance of opinion respecting certain grants to the Imperial family,
was now discussing a bill for the imposition of a very unpopular tax, at
which the lower orders had already begun to growl. The Ministry, fearing
a defeat, was straining every nerve. It was probable, thought Florent,
that no better pretext for a rising would for a long time present

One morning, at daybreak, he went to reconnoitre the neighbourhood of
the Palais Bourbon. He forgot all about his duties as inspector, and
lingered there, studying the approaches of the palace, till eight
o’clock, without ever thinking that his absence would revolutionise the
fish market. He perambulated all the surrounding streets, the Rue de
Lille, the Rue de l’Universite, the Rue de Bourgogne, the Rue Saint
Dominique, and even extended his examination to the Esplanade des
Invalides, stopping at certain crossways, and measuring distances as he
walked along. Then, on coming back to the Quai d’Orsay, he sat down
on the parapet, and determined that the attack should be made
simultaneously from all sides. The contingents from the Gros-Caillou
district should arrive by way of the Champ de Mars; the sections from
the north of Paris should come down by the Madeleine; while those from
the west and the south would follow the quays, or make their way in
small detachments through the then narrow streets of the Faubourg Saint
Germain. However, the other side of the river, the Champs Elysees, with
their open avenues, caused him some uneasiness; for he foresaw that
cannon would be stationed there to sweep the quays. He thereupon
modified several details of his plan, and marked down in a
memorandum-book the different positions which the several sections
should occupy during the combat. The chief attack, he concluded, must
certainly be made from the Rue de Bourgogne and the Rue de l’Universite,
while a diversion might be effected on the side of the river.

Whilst he thus pondered over his plans the eight o’clock sun, warming
the nape of his neck, shone gaily on the broad footways, and gilded
the columns of the great structure in front of him. In imagination he
already saw the contemplated battle; clusters of men clinging round
those columns, the gates burst open, the peristyle invaded; and then
scraggy arms suddenly appearing high aloft and planting a banner there.

At last he slowly went his way homewards again with his gaze fixed upon
the ground. But all at once a cooing sound made him look up, and he saw
that he was passing through the garden of the Tuileries. A number of
wood-pigeons, bridling their necks, were strutting over a lawn near by.
Florent leant for a moment against the tub of an orange-tree, and looked
at the grass and the pigeons steeped in sunshine. Right ahead under the
chestnut-trees all was black. The garden was wrapped in a warm silence,
broken only by the distant rumbling which came from behind the railings
of the Rue de Rivoli. The scent of all the greenery affected Florent,
reminding him of Madame Francois. However, a little girl ran past,
trundling a hoop, and alarmed the pigeons. They flew off, and settled in
a row on the arm of a marble statue of an antique wrestler standing
in the middle of the lawn, and once more, but with less vivacity, they
began to coo and bridle their necks.

As Florent was returning to the markets by way of the Rue Vauvilliers,
he heard Claude Lantier calling to him. The artist was going down into
the basement of the poultry pavilion. “Come with me!” he cried. “I’m
looking for that brute Marjolin.”

Florent followed, glad to forget his thoughts and to defer his return
to the fish market for a little longer. Claude told him that his friend
Marjolin now had nothing further to wish for: he had become an utter
animal. Claude entertained an idea of making him pose on all-fours in
future. Whenever he lost his temper over some disappointing sketch he
came to spend whole hours in the idiot’s company, never speaking, but
striving to catch his expression when he laughed.

“He’ll be feeding his pigeons, I dare say,” he said; “but unfortunately
I don’t know whereabouts Monsieur Gavard’s storeroom is.”

They groped about the cellar. In the middle of it some water was
trickling from a couple of taps in the dim gloom. The storerooms here
are reserved for pigeons exclusively, and all along the trellising they
heard faint cooings, like the hushed notes of birds nestling under the
leaves when daylight is departing. Claude began to laugh as he heard it.

“It sounds as though all the lovers in Paris were embracing each other
inside here, doesn’t it?” he exclaimed to his companion.

However, they could not find a single storeroom open, and were beginning
to think that Marjolin could not be in the cellar, when a sound of
loud, smacking kisses made them suddenly halt before a door which stood
slightly ajar. Claude pulled it open and beheld Marjolin, whom Cadine
was kissing, whilst he, a mere dummy, offered his face without feeling
the slightest thrill at the touch of her lips.

“Oh, so this is your little game, is it?” said Claude with a laugh.

“Oh,” replied Cadine, quite unabashed, “he likes being kissed, because
he feels afraid now in the dim light. You do feel frightened, don’t

Like the idiot he was, Marjolin stroked his face with his hands as
though trying to find the kisses which the girl had just printed there.
And he was beginning to stammer out that he was afraid, when Cadine
continued: “And, besides, I came to help him; I’ve been feeding the

Florent looked at the poor creatures. All along the shelves were rows of
lidless boxes, in which pigeons, showing their motley plumage, crowded
closely on their stiffened legs. Every now and then a tremor ran along
the moving mass; and then the birds settled down again, and nothing was
heard but their confused, subdued notes. Cadine had a saucepan near her;
she filled her mouth with the water and tares which it contained, and
then, taking up the pigeons one by one, shot the food down their throats
with amazing rapidity. The poor creatures struggled and nearly choked,
and finally fell down in the boxes with swimming eyes, intoxicated, as
it were, by all the food which they were thus forced to swallow.[*]

     [*] This is the customary mode of fattening pigeons at the
     Paris markets. The work is usually done by men who make a
     specialty of it, and are called _gaveurs_.--Translator.

“Poor creatures!” exclaimed Claude.

“Oh, so much the worse for them,” said Cadine, who had now finished.
“They are much nicer eating when they’ve been well fed. In a couple of
hours or so all those over yonder will be given a dose of salt water.
That makes their flesh white and tender. Then two hours afterwards
they’ll be killed. If you would like to see the killing, there are some
here which are quite ready. Marjolin will settle their account for them
in a jiffy.”

Marjolin carried away a box containing some fifty pigeons, and Claude
and Florent followed him. Squatting upon the ground near one of the
water-taps, he placed the box by his side. Then he laid a framework of
slender wooden bars on the top of a kind of zinc trough, and forthwith
began to kill the pigeons. His knife flashed rapidly in his fingers,
as he seized the birds by the wings, stunned them by a blow on the head
from the knife-handle, and then thrust the point of the blade into their
throats. They quivered for an instant, and ruffled their feathers as
Marjolin laid them in a row, with their heads between the wooden bars
above the zinc trough, into which their blood fell drop by drop. He
repeated each different movement with the regularity of clockwork, the
blows from the knife-handle falling with a monotonous tick-tack as he
broke the birds’ skulls, and his hand working backwards and forwards
like a pendulum as he took up the living pigeons on one side and laid
them down dead on the other. Soon, moreover, he worked with increasing
rapidity, gloating over the massacre with glistening eyes, squatting
there like a huge delighted bull-dog enjoying the sight of slaughtered
vermin. “Tick-tack! Tick-tack!” whilst his tongue clucked as an
accompaniment to the rhythmical movements of his knife. The pigeons hung
down like wisps of silken stuff.

“Ah, you enjoy that, don’t you, you great stupid?” exclaimed Cadine.
“How comical those pigeons look when they bury their heads in their
shoulders to hide their necks! They’re horrid things, you know, and
would give one nasty bites if they got the chance.” Then she laughed
more loudly at Marjolin’s increasing, feverish haste; and added: “I’ve
killed them sometimes myself, but I can’t get on as quickly as he does.
One day he killed a hundred in ten minutes.”

The wooden frame was nearly full; the blood could be heard falling into
the zinc trough; and as Claude happened to turn round he saw Florent
looking so pale that he hurriedly led him away. When they got
above-ground again he made him sit down on a step.

“Why, what’s the matter with you?” he exclaimed, tapping him on the
shoulder. “You’re fainting away like a woman!”

“It’s the smell of the cellar,” murmured Florent, feeling a little
ashamed of himself.

The truth was, however, that those pigeons, which were forced to swallow
tares and salt water, and then had their skulls broken and their throats
slit, had reminded him of the wood-pigeons of the Tuileries gardens,
strutting over the green turf, with their satiny plumage flashing
iridescently in the sunlight. He again heard them cooing on the arm
of the marble wrestler amidst the hushed silence of the garden, while
children trundled their hoops in the deep gloom of the chestnuts. And
then, on seeing that big fair-haired animal massacring his boxful of
birds, stunning them with the handle of his knife and driving its point
into their throats, in the depths of that foul-smelling cellar, he had
felt sick and faint, his legs had almost given way beneath him, while
his eyelids quivered tremulously.

“Well, you’d never do for a soldier!” Claude said to him when he
recovered from his faintness. “Those who sent you to Cayenne must have
been very simple-minded folks to fear such a man as you! Why, my good
fellow, if ever you do put yourself at the head of a rising, you won’t
dare to fire a shot. You’ll be too much afraid of killing somebody.”

Florent got up without making any reply. He had become very gloomy, his
face was furrowed by deep wrinkles; and he walked off, leaving Claude to
go back to the cellar alone. As he made his way towards the fish market
his thoughts returned to his plan of attack, to the levies of armed men
who were to invade the Palais Bourbon. Cannon would roar from the Champs
Elysees; the gates would be burst open; blood would stain the steps, and
men’s brains would bespatter the pillars. A vision of the fight passed
rapidly before him; and he beheld himself in the midst of it, deadly
pale, and hiding his face in his hands, not daring to look around him.

As he was crossing the Rue du Pont Neuf he fancied he espied Auguste’s
pale face peering round the corner of the fruit pavilion. The assistant
seemed to be watching for someone, and his eyes were starting from his
head with an expression of intense excitement. Suddenly, however, he
vanished and hastened back to the pork shop.

“What’s the matter with him?” thought Florent. “Is he frightened of me,
I wonder?”

Some very serious occurrences had taken place that morning at the
Quenu-Gradelles’. Soon after daybreak, Auguste, breathless with
excitement, had awakened his mistress to tell her that the police
had come to arrest Monsieur Florent. And he added, with stammering
incoherence, that the latter had gone out, and that he must have done so
with the intention of escaping. Lisa, careless of appearances, at once
hurried up to her brother-in-law’s room in her dressing-wrapper, and
took possession of La Normande’s photograph, after glancing round to
see if there was anything lying about that might compromise herself and
Quenu. As she was making her way downstairs again, she met the police
agents on the first floor. The commissary requested her to accompany
them to Florent’s room, where, after speaking to her for a moment in a
low tone, he installed himself with his men, bidding her open the shop
as usual so as to avoid giving the alarm to anyone. The trap was set.

Lisa’s only worry in the matter was the terrible blow that the arrest
would prove to poor Quenu. She was much afraid that if he learned that
the police were in the house, he would spoil everything by his tears; so
she made Auguste swear to observe the most rigid silence on the subject.
Then she went back to her room, put on her stays, and concocted some
story for the benefit of Quenu, who was still drowsy. Half an hour later
she was standing at the door of the shop with all her usual neatness
of appearance, her hair smooth and glossy, and her face glowing rosily.
Auguste was quietly setting out the window. Quenu came for a moment on
to the footway, yawning slightly, and ridding himself of all sleepiness
in the fresh morning air. There was nothing to indicate the drama that
was in preparation upstairs.

The commissary himself, however, gave the alarm to the neighbourhood by
paying a domiciliary visit to the Mehudins’ abode in the Rue Pirouette.
He was in possession of the most precise information. In the anonymous
letters which had been sent to the Prefecture, all sorts of statements
were made respecting Florent’s alleged intrigue with the beautiful
Norman. Perhaps, thought the commissary, he had now taken refuge with
her; and so, accompanied by two of his men, he proceeded to knock at the
door in the name of the law. The Mehudins had only just got up. The old
woman opened the door in a fury; but suddenly calmed down and began
to smile when she learned the business on hand. She seated herself and
fastened her clothes, while declaring to the officers: “We are honest
folks here, and have nothing to be afraid of. You can search wherever
you like.”

However, as La Normande delayed to open the door of her room, the
commissary told his men to break it open. The young woman was scarcely
clad when the others entered, and this unceremonious invasion, which she
could not understand, fairly exasperated her. She flushed crimson from
anger rather than from shame, and seemed as though she were about to
fly at the officers. The commissary, at the sight, stepped forward to
protect his men, repeating in his cold voice: “In the name of the law!
In the name of the law!”

Thereupon La Normande threw herself upon a chair, and burst into a wild
fit of hysterical sobbing at finding herself so powerless. She was quite
at a loss to understand what these men wanted with her. The commissary,
however, had noticed how scantily she was clad, and taking a shawl from
a peg, he flung it over her. Still she did not wrap it round her, but
only sobbed the more bitterly as she watched the men roughly searching
the apartment.

“But what have I done?” she at last stammered out. “What are you looking
for here?”

Thereupon the commissary pronounced the name of Florent; and La
Normande, catching sight of the old woman, who was standing at the door,
cried out: “Oh, the wretch! This is her doing!” and she rushed at her

She would have struck her if she had reached her; but the police agents
held her back, and forcibly wrapped her in the shawl. Meanwhile, she
struggled violently, and exclaimed in a choking voice:

“What do you take me for? That Florent has never been in this room, I
tell you. There was nothing at all between us. People are always trying
to injure me in the neighbourhood; but just let anyone come here and
say anything before my face, and then you’ll see! You’ll lock me up
afterwards, I dare say, but I don’t mind that! Florent, indeed! What a
lie! What nonsense!”

This flood of words seemed to calm her; and her anger now turned
against Florent, who was the cause of all the trouble. Addressing the
commissary, she sought to justify herself.

“I did not know his real character, sir,” she said. “He had such a mild
manner that he deceived us all. I was unwilling to believe all I heard,
because I know people are so malicious. He only came here to give
lessons to my little boy, and went away directly they were over. I gave
him a meal here now and again, that’s true and sometimes made him a
present of a fine fish. That’s all. But this will be a warning to me,
and you won’t catch me showing the same kindness to anyone again.”

“But hasn’t he given you any of his papers to take care of?” asked the

“Oh no, indeed! I swear it. I’d give them up to you at once if he had.
I’ve had quite enough of this, I can tell you! It’s no joke to see you
tossing all my things about and ferreting everywhere in this way. Oh!
you may look; there’s nothing.”

The officers, who examined every article of furniture, now wished to
enter the little closet where Muche slept. The child had been awakened
by the noise, and for the last few moments he had been crying bitterly,
as though he imagined that he was going to be murdered.

“This is my boy’s room,” said La Normande, opening the door.

Muche, quite naked, ran up and threw his arms round his mother’s neck.
She pacified him, and laid him down in her own bed. The officers came
out of the little room again almost immediately, and the commissary
had just made up his mind to retire, when the child, still in tears,
whispered in his mother’s ear: “They’ll take my copy-books. Don’t let
them have my copy-books.”

“Oh, yes; that’s true,” cried La Normande; “there are some copy-books.
Wait a moment, gentlemen, and I’ll give them to you. I want you to see
that I’m not hiding anything from you. Then, you’ll find some of his
writing inside these. You’re quite at liberty to hang him as far as I’m
concerned; you won’t find me trying to cut him down.”

Thereupon she handed Muche’s books and the copies set by Florent to the
commissary. But at this the boy sprang angrily out of bed, and began to
scratch and bite his mother, who put him back again with a box on the
ears. Then he began to bellow.

In the midst of the uproar, Mademoiselle Saget appeared on the
threshold, craning her neck forward. Finding all the doors open, she had
come in to offer her services to old Madame Mehudin. She spied about and
listened, and expressed extreme pity for these poor women, who had
no one to defend them. The commissary, however, had begun to read
the copies with a grave air. The frequent repetition of such words as
“tyrannically,” “liberticide,” “unconstitutional,” and “revolutionary”
 made him frown; and on reading the sentence, “When the hour strikes, the
guilty shall fall,” he tapped his fingers on the paper and said: “This
is very serious, very serious indeed.”

Thereupon he gave the books to one of his men, and went off. Claire,
who had hitherto not shown herself, now opened her door, and watched
the police officers go down the stairs. And afterwards she came into
her sister’s bedroom, which she had not entered for a year. Mademoiselle
Saget appeared to be on the best of terms with La Normande, and was
hanging over her in a caressing way, bringing the shawl forward to
cover her the better, and listening to her angry indignation with an
expression of the deepest sympathy.

“You wretched coward!” exclaimed Claire, planting herself in front of
her sister.

La Normande sprang up, quivering with anger, and let the shawl fall to
the floor.

“Ah, you’ve been playing the spy, have you?” she screamed. “Dare to
repeat what you’ve just said!”

“You wretched coward!” repeated Claire, in still more insulting tones
than before.

Thereupon La Normande struck Claire with all her force; and in return
Claire, turning terribly pale, sprang upon her sister and dug her nails
into her neck. They struggled together for a moment or two, tearing
at each other’s hair and trying to choke one another. Claire, fragile
though she was, pushed La Normande backward with such tremendous
violence that they both fell against the wardrobe, smashing the mirror
on its front. Muche was roaring, and old Madame Mehudin called to
Mademoiselle Saget to come and help her separate the sisters. Claire,
however, shook herself free.

“Coward! Coward!” she cried; “I’ll go and tell the poor fellow that it
is you who have betrayed him.”

Her mother, however, blocked the doorway, and would not let her pass,
while La Normande seized her from behind, and then, Mademoiselle Saget
coming to the assistance of the other two, the three of them dragged
Claire into her bedroom and locked the door upon her, in spite of all
her frantic resistance. In her rage she tried to kick the door down, and
smashed everything in the room. Soon afterwards, however, nothing could
be heard except a furious scratching, the sound of metal scarping at the
plaster. The girl was trying to loosen the door hinges with the points
of her scissors.

“She would have murdered me if she had had a knife,” said La Normande,
looking about for her clothes, in order to dress herself. “She’ll be
doing something dreadful, you’ll see, one of these days, with that
jealousy of hers! We mustn’t let her get out on any account: she’d bring
the whole neighbourhood down upon us!”

Mademoiselle Saget went off in all haste. She reached the corner of the
Rue Pirouette just as the commissary of police was re-entering the side
passage of the Quenu-Gradelles’ house. She grasped the situation at
once, and entered the shop with such glistening eyes that Lisa enjoined
silence by a gesture which called her attention to the presence of
Quenu, who was hanging up some pieces of salt pork. As soon as he had
returned to the kitchen, the old maid in a low voice described the
scenes that had just taken place at the Mehudins’. Lisa, as she bent
over the counter, with her hand resting on a dish of larded veal,
listened to her with the happy face of one who triumphs. Then, as a
customer entered the shop, and asked for a couple of pig’s trotters,
Lisa wrapped them up, and handed them over with a thoughtful air.

“For my own part, I bear La Normande no ill-will,” she said to
Mademoiselle Saget, when they were alone again. “I used to be very
fond of her, and have always been sorry that other people made mischief
between us. The proof that I’ve no animosity against her is here in this
photograph, which I saved from falling into the hands of the police, and
which I’m quite ready to give her back if she will come and ask me for
it herself.”

She took the photograph out of her pocket as she spoke. Mademoiselle
Saget scrutinised it and sniggered as she read the inscription, “Louise,
to her dear friend Florent.”

“I’m not sure you’ll be acting wisely,” she said in her cutting voice.
“You’d do better to keep it.”

“No, no,” replied Lisa; “I’m anxious for all this silly nonsense to
come to an end. To-day is the day of reconciliation. We’ve had enough
unpleasantness, and the neighbourhood’s now going to be quiet and
peaceful again.”

“Well, well, shall I go and tell La Normande that you are expecting
her?” asked the old maid.

“Yes; I shall be very glad if you will.”

Mademoiselle Saget then made her way back to the Rue Pirouette, and
greatly frightened the fish-girl by telling her that she had just seen
her photograph in Lisa’s pocket. She could not, however, at once prevail
upon her to comply with her rival’s terms. La Normande propounded
conditions of her own. She would go, but Madame Quenu must come to the
door of the shop to receive her. Thus the old maid was obliged to make
another couple of journeys between the two rivals before their meeting
could be satisfactorily arranged. At last, however, to her great
delight, she succeeded in negotiating the peace which was destined to
cause so much talk and excitement. As she passed Claire’s door for the
last time she still heard the sound of the scissors scraping away at the

When she had at last carried a definite reply to Madame Quenu,
Mademoiselle Saget hurried off to find Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette;
and all three of them took up their position on the footway at the
corner of the fish market, just in front of the pork shop. Here they
would be certain to have a good view of every detail of the meeting.
They felt extremely impatient, and while pretending to chat together
kept an anxious look-out in the direction of the Rue Pirouette, along
which La Normande must come. The news of the reconciliation was already
travelling through the markets, and while some saleswomen stood up
behind their stalls trying to get a view of what was taking place,
others, still more inquisitive, actually left their places and took up a
position in the covered way. Every eye in the markets was directed
upon the pork shop; the whole neighbourhood was on the tip-toe of

It was a very solemn affair. When La Normande at last turned the corner
of the Rue Pirouette the excitement was so great that the women held
their breath.

“She has got her diamonds on,” murmured La Sarriette.

“Just look how she stalks along,” added Madame Lecoeur; “the stuck-up

The beautiful Norman was, indeed, advancing with the mien of a queen who
condescends to make peace. She had made a most careful toilet, frizzing
her hair and turning up a corner of her apron to display her cashmere
skirt. She had even put on a new and rich lace bow. Conscious that the
whole market was staring at her, she assumed a still haughtier air as
she approached the pork shop. When she reached the door she stopped.

“Now it’s beautiful Lisa’s turn,” remarked Mademoiselle Saget. “Mind you
pay attention.”

Beautiful Lisa smilingly quitted her counter. She crossed the shop-floor
at a leisurely pace, and came and offered her hand to the beautiful
Norman. She also was smartly dressed, with her dazzling linen and
scrupulous neatness. A murmur ran through the crowd of fish-wives, all
their heads gathered close together, and animated chatter ensued. The
two women had gone inside the shop, and the _crepines_ in the window
prevented them from being clearly seen. However, they seemed to be
conversing affectionately, addressing pretty compliments to one another.

“See!” suddenly exclaimed Mademoiselle Saget, “the beautiful Norman’s
buying something! What is it she’s buying? It’s a chitterling, I
believe! Ah! Look! look! You didn’t see it, did you? Well, beautiful
Lisa just gave her the photograph; she slipped it into her hand with the

Fresh salutations were then seen to pass between the two women; and
the beautiful Lisa, exceeding even the courtesies which had been agreed
upon, accompanied the beautiful Norman to the footway. There they stood
laughing together, exhibiting themselves to the neighbourhood like
a couple of good friends. The markets were quite delighted; and the
saleswomen returned to their stalls, declaring that everything had
passed off extremely well.

Mademoiselle Saget, however, detained Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette.
The drama was not over yet. All three kept their eyes fixed on the house
opposite with such keen curiosity that they seemed trying to penetrate
the very walls. To pass the time away they once more began to talk of
the beautiful Norman.

“She’s without a lover now,” remarked Madame Lecoeur.

“Oh! she’s got Monsieur Lebigre,” replied La Sarriette, with a laugh.

“But surely Monsieur Lebigre won’t have anything more to say to her.”

Mademoiselle Saget shrugged her shoulders. “Ah, you don’t know him,” she
said. “He won’t care a straw about all this business. He knows what he’s
about, and La Normande is rich. They’ll come together in a couple of
months, you’ll see. Old Madame Mehudin’s been scheming to bring about
their marriage for a long time past.”

“Well, anyway,” retorted the butter dealer, “the commissary found
Florent at her lodgings.”

“No, no, indeed; I’m sure I never told you that. The long spindle-shanks
had gone way,” replied the old maid. She paused to take a breath; then
resumed in an indignant tone, “What distressed me most was to hear of
all the abominable things that the villain had taught little Muche.
You’d really never believe it. There was a whole bundle of papers.”

“What sort of abominable things?” asked La Sarriette with interest.

“Oh, all kinds of filth. The commissary said there was quite sufficient
there to hang him. The fellow’s a perfect monster! To go and demoralise
a child! Why, it’s almost past believing! Little Muche is certainly a
scamp, but that’s no reason why he should be given over to the ‘Reds,’
is it?”

“Certainly not,” assented the two others.

“However, all these mysterious goings-on will come to an end now. You
remember my telling you once that there was some strange goings-on at
the Quenus’? Well, you see, I was right in my conclusions, wasn’t
I? Thank God, however, the neighbourhood will now be able to breathe
easily. It was high time strong steps were taken, for things had got to
such a pitch that one actually felt afraid of being murdered in broad
daylight. There was no pleasure in life. All the dreadful stories and
reports one heard were enough to worry one to death. And it was all
owing to that man, that dreadful Florent. Now beautiful Lisa and the
beautiful Norman have sensibly made friends again. It was their duty to
do so for the sake of the peace and quietness of us all. Everything will
go on satisfactorily now, you’ll find. Ah! there’s poor Monsieur Quenu
laughing yonder!”

Quenu had again come on to the footway, and was joking with Madame
Taboureau’s little servant. He seemed quite gay and skittish that
morning. He took hold of the little servant’s hands, and squeezed her
fingers so tightly, in the exuberance of his spirits, that he made her
cry out. Lisa had the greatest trouble to get him to go back into the
kitchen. She was impatiently pacing about the shop, fearing lest Florent
should make his appearance; and she called to her husband to come away,
dreading a meeting between him and his brother.

“She’s getting quite vexed,” said Mademoiselle Saget. “Poor Monsieur
Quenu, you see, knows nothing at all about what’s taking place. Just
look at him there, laughing like a child! Madame Taboureau, you know,
said that she should have nothing more to do with the Quenus if they
persisted in bringing themselves into discredit by keeping that Florent
with them.”

“Well, now, I suppose, they will stick to the fortune,” remarked Madame

“Oh, no, indeed, my dear. The other one has had his share already.”

“Really? How do you know that?”

“Oh, it’s clear enough, that is!” replied the old maid after a momentary
hesitation, but without giving any proof of her assertions. “He’s had
even more than his share. The Quenus will be several thousand francs out
of pocket. Money flies, you know, when a man has such vices as he has. I
dare say you don’t know that there was another woman mixed up in it all.
Yes, indeed, old Madame Verlaque, the wife of the former inspector; you
know the sallow-faced thing well enough.”

The others protested that it surely wasn’t possible. Why, Madame
Verlaque was positively hideous!

“What! do you think me a liar?” cried Mademoiselle Saget, with angry
indignation. “Why, her letters to him have been found, a whole pile of
letters, in which she asks for money, ten and twenty francs at a time.
There’s no doubt at all about it. I’m quite certain in my own mind that
they killed the husband between them.”

La Sarriette and Madame Lecoeur were convinced; but they were beginning
to get very impatient. They had been waiting on the footway for more
than an hour, and feared that somebody might be robbing their stalls
during their long absence. So Mademoiselle Saget began to give them some
further interesting information to keep them from going off. Florent
could not have taken to flight, said she; he was certain to return, and
it would be very interesting to see him arrested. Then she went on to
describe the trap that had been laid for him, while Madame Lecoeur
and La Sarriette continued scrutinising the house from top to bottom,
keeping watch upon every opening, and at each moment expecting to see
the hats of the detectives appear at one of the doors or windows.

“Who would ever imagine, now, that the place was full of police?”
 observed the butter dealer.

“Oh! they’re in the garret at the top,” said the old maid. “They’ve left
the window open, you see, just as they found it. Look! I think I can see
one of them hiding behind the pomegranate on the balcony.”

The others excitedly craned out their necks, but could see nothing.

“Ah, no, it’s only a shadow,” continued Mademoiselle Saget. “The little
curtains even are perfectly still. The detectives must be sitting down
in the room, and keeping quiet.”

Just at that moment the women caught sight of Gavard coming out of the
fish market with a thoughtful air. They looked at him with glistening
eyes, without speaking. They had drawn close to one another, and stood
there rigid in their drooping skirts. The poultry dealer came up to

“Have you seen Florent go by?” he asked.

They replied that they had not.

“I want to speak to him at once,” continued Gavard. “He isn’t in the
fish market. He must have gone up to his room. But you would have seen
him, though, if he had.”

The women had turned rather pale. They still kept looking at each other
with a knowing expression, their lips twitching slightly every now and
then. “We have only been here some five minutes, said Madame Lecoeur
unblushingly, as her brother-in-law still stood hesitating.

“Well, then, I’ll go upstairs and see. I’ll risk the five flights,”
 rejoined Gavard with a laugh.

La Sarriette stepped forward as though she wished to detain him, but her
aunt took hold of her arm and drew her back.

“Let him alone, you big simpleton!” she whispered. “It’s the best thing
that can happen to him. It’ll teach him to treat us with respect in

“He won’t say again that I ate tainted meat,” muttered Mademoiselle
Saget in a low tone.

They said nothing more. La Sarriette was very red; but the two others
still remained quite yellow. But they now averted their heads, feeling
confused by each other’s looks, and at a loss what to do with their
hands, which they buried beneath their aprons. Presently their eyes
instinctively came back to the house, penetrating the walls, as it were,
following Gavard in his progress up the stairs. When they imagined that
he had entered Florent’s room they again exchanged furtive glances. La
Sarriette laughed nervously. All at once they fancied they could see the
window curtains moving, and this led them to believe that a struggle was
taking place. But the house-front remained as tranquil as ever in the
sunshine; and another quarter of an hour of unbroken quietness passed
away, during which the three women’s nervous excitement became more
and more intense. They were beginning to feel quite faint when a man
hurriedly came out of the passage and ran off to get a cab. Five minutes
later Gavard appeared, followed by two police officers. Lisa, who had
stepped out on to the footway on observing the cab, hastily hurried back
into the shop.

Gavard was very pale. The police had searched him upstairs, and had
discovered the revolver and cartridge case in his possession. Judging
by the commissary’s stern expression on hearing his name, the poultry
dealer deemed himself lost. This was a terrible ending to his plotting
that had never entered into his calculations. The Tuileries would never
forgive him! His legs gave way beneath him as though the firing party
was already awaiting him outside. When he got into the street, however,
his vanity lent him sufficient strength to walk erect; and he even
managed to force a smile, as he knew the market people were looking at
him. They should see him die bravely, he resolved.

However, La Sarriette and Madame Lecoeur rushed up to him and anxiously
inquired what was the matter; and the butter dealer began to cry, while
La Sarriette embraced her uncle, manifesting the deepest emotion. As
Gavard held her clasped in his arms, he slipped a key into her hand, and
whispered in her ear: “Take everything, and burn the papers.”

Then he got into the cab with the same mien as he would have ascended
the scaffold. As the vehicle disappeared round the corner of the Rue
Pierre Lescot, Madame Lecoeur observed La Sarriette trying to hide the
key in her pocket.

“It’s of no use you trying that little game on me, my dear,” she
exclaimed, clenching her teeth; “I saw him slip it into your hand.
As true as there’s a God in Heaven, I’ll go to the gaol and tell him
everything, if you don’t treat me properly.”

“Of course I shall treat you properly, aunt, dear,” replied La
Sarriette, with an embarrassed smile.

“Very well, then, let us go to his rooms at once. It’s of no use to give
the police time to poke their dirty hands in the cupboards.”

Mademoiselle Saget, who had been listening with gleaming eyes, followed
them, running along in the rear as quickly as her short legs could
carry her. She had no thought, now, of waiting for Florent. From the Rue
Rambuteau to the Rue de la Cossonnerie she manifested the most humble
obsequiousness, and volunteered to explain matters to Madame Leonce, the

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” the butter dealer curtly replied.

However, on reaching the house a preliminary parley--as Mademoiselle
Saget had opined--proved to be necessary. Madame Leonce refused to allow
the women to go up to her tenant’s room. She put on an expression
of severe austerity, and seemed greatly shocked by the sight of La
Sarriette’s loosely fastened fichu. However, after the old maid had
whispered a few words to her and she was shown the key, she gave way.
When they got upstairs she surrendered the rooms and furniture to the
others article by article, apparently as heartbroken as if she had been
compelled to show a party of burglars the place where her own money was

“There, take everything and have done with it!” she cried at last,
throwing herself into an arm-chair.

La Sarriette was already eagerly trying the key in the locks of
different closets. Madame Lecoeur, all suspicion, pressed her so closely
that she exclaimed: “Really, aunt, you get in my way. Do leave my arms
free, at any rate.”

At last they succeeded in opening a wardrobe opposite the window,
between the fireplace and the bed. And then all four women broke into
exclamations. On the middle shelf lay some ten thousand francs in
gold, methodically arranged in little piles. Gavard, who had prudently
deposited the bulk of his fortune in the hands of a notary, had kept
this sum by him for the purposes of the coming outbreak. He had been
wont to say with great solemnity that his contribution to the revolution
was quite ready. The fact was that he had sold out certain stock, and
every night took an intense delight in contemplating those ten thousand
francs, gloating over them, and finding something quite roysterous and
insurrectional in their appearance. Sometimes when he was in bed he
dreamed that a fight was going on in the wardrobe; he could hear
guns being fired there, paving-stones being torn up and piled into
barricades, and voices shouting in clamorous triumph; and he said to
himself that it was his money fighting against the Government.

La Sarriette, however, had stretched out her hands with a cry of

“Paws off, little one!” exclaimed Madame Lecoeur in a hoarse voice.

As she stood there in the reflection of the gold, she looked yellower
than ever--her face discoloured by biliousness, her eyes glowing
feverishly from the liver complaint which was secretly undermining her.
Behind her Mademoiselle Saget on tip-toe was gazing ecstatically into
the wardrobe, and Madame Leonce had now risen from her seat, and was
growling sulkily.

“My uncle said I was to take everything,” declared the girl.

“And am I to have nothing, then; I who have done so much for him?” cried
the doorkeeper.

Madame Lecoeur was almost choking with excitement. She pushed the others
away, and clung hold of the wardrobe, screaming: “It all belongs to
me! I am his nearest relative. You are a pack of thieves, you are! I’d
rather throw it all out of the window than see you have it!”

Then silence fell, and they all four stood glowering at each other.
The kerchief that La Sarriette wore over her breast was now altogether
unfastened, and she displayed her bosom heaving with warm life, her
moist red lips, her rosy nostrils. Madame Lecoeur grew still more sour
as she saw how lovely the girl looked in the excitement of her longing

“Well,” she said in a lower tone, “we won’t fight about it. You are his
niece, and I’ll divide the money with you. We will each take a pile in

Thereupon they pushed the other two aside. The butter dealer took
the first pile, which at once disappeared within her skirts. Then La
Sarriette took a pile. They kept a close watch upon one another, ready
to fight at the slightest attempt at cheating. Their fingers were thrust
forward in turn, the hideous knotted fingers of the aunt and the white
fingers of the niece, soft and supple as silk. Slowly they filled their
pockets. When there was only one pile left, La Sarriette objected to
her aunt taking it, as she had commenced; and she suddenly divided
it between Mademoiselle Saget and Madame Leonce, who had watched them
pocket the gold with feverish impatience.

“Much obliged to you!” snarled the doorkeeper. “Fifty francs for having
coddled him up with tisane and broth! The old deceiver told me he had no

Before locking the wardrobe up again, Madame Lecoeur searched it
thoroughly from top to bottom. It contained all the political works
which were forbidden admission into the country, the pamphlets printed
at Brussels, the scandalous histories of the Bonapartes, and the foreign
caricatures ridiculing the Emperor. One of Gavard’s greatest
delights was to shut himself up with a friend, and show him all these
compromising things.

“He told me that I was to burn all the papers,” said La Sarriette.

“Oh, nonsense! we’ve no fire, and it would take up too long. The police
will soon be here! We must get out of this!”

They all four hastened off; but they had not reached the bottom of the
stairs before the police met them, and made Madame Leonce return with
them upstairs. The three others, making themselves as small as possible,
hurriedly escaped into the street. They walked away in single file at a
brisk pace; the aunt and niece considerably incommoded by the weight of
their drooping pockets. Mademoiselle Saget had kept her fifty francs in
her closed fist, and remained deep in thought, brooding over a plan for
extracting something more from the heavy pockets in front of her.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, as they reached the corner of the fish market,
“we’ve got here at a lucky moment. There’s Florent yonder, just going to
walk into the trap.”

Florent, indeed, was just then returning to the markets after his
prolonged perambulation. He went into his office to change his coat,
and then set about his daily duties, seeing that the marble slabs were
properly washed, and slowly strolling along the alleys. He fancied that
the fish-wives looked at him in a somewhat strange manner; they chuckled
too, and smiled significantly as he passed them. Some new vexation, he
thought, was in store for him. For some time past those huge, terrible
women had not allowed him a day’s peace. However, as he passed the
Mehudins’ stall he was very much surprised to hear the old woman address
him in a honeyed tone: “There’s just been a gentleman inquiring for you,
Monsieur Florent; a middle-aged gentleman. He’s gone to wait for you in
your room.”

As the old fish-wife, who was squatting, all of a heap, on her chair,
spoke these words, she felt such a delicious thrill of satisfied
vengeance that her huge body fairly quivered. Florent, still doubtful,
glanced at the beautiful Norman; but the young woman, now completely
reconciled with her mother, turned on her tap and slapped her fish,
pretending not to hear what was being said.

“You are quite sure?” said Florent to Mother Mehudin.

“Oh, yes, indeed. Isn’t that so, Louise?” said the old woman in a
shriller voice.

Florent concluded that it must be some one who wanted to see him about
the great business, and he resolved to go up to his room. He was just
about to leave the pavilion, when, happening to turn round, he observed
the beautiful Norman watching him with a grave expression on her face.
Then he passed in front of the three gossips.

“Do you notice that there’s no one in the pork shop?” remarked
Mademoiselle Saget. “Beautiful Lisa’s not the woman to compromise

The shop was, indeed, quite empty. The front of the house was still
bright with sunshine; the building looked like some honest, prosperous
pile guilelessly warming itself in the morning rays. Up above, the
pomegranate on the balcony was in full bloom. As Florent crossed the
roadway he gave a friendly nod to Logre and Monsieur Lebigre, who
appeared to be enjoying the fresh air on the doorstep of the latter’s
establishment. They returned his greeting with a smile. Florent was then
about to enter the side-passage, when he fancied he saw Auguste’s pale
face hastily vanishing from its dark and narrow depths. Thereupon he
turned back and glanced into the shop to make sure that the middle-aged
gentleman was not waiting for him there. But he saw no one but Mouton,
who sat on a block displaying his double chin and bristling whiskers,
and gazed at him defiantly with his great yellow eyes. And when he had
at last made up his mind to enter the passage, Lisa’s face appeared
behind the little curtain of a glazed door at the back of the shop.

A hush had fallen over the fish market. All the huge paunches and bosoms
held their breath, waiting till Florent should disappear from sight.
Then there was an uproarious outbreak; and the bosoms heaved wildly
and the paunches nearly burst with malicious delight. The joke had
succeeded. Nothing could be more comical. As old Mother Mehudin vented
her merriment she shook and quivered like a wine-skin that is being
emptied. Her story of the middle-aged gentleman went the round of the
market, and the fish-wives found it extremely amusing. At last the long
spindle-shanks was collared, and they would no longer always have his
miserable face and gaol-bird’s expression before their eyes. They
all wished him a pleasant journey, and trusted that they might get a
handsome fellow for their next inspector. And in their delight they
rushed about from one stall to another, and felt inclined to dance
round their marble slabs like a lot of holiday-making schoolgirls.
The beautiful Norman, however, watched this outbreak of joy in a rigid
attitude, not daring to move for fear she should burst into tears;
and she kept her hands pressed upon a big skate to cool her feverish

“You see how those Mehudins turn their backs upon him now that he’s come
to grief,” said Madame Lecoeur.

“Well, and they’re quite right too,” replied Mademoiselle Saget.
“Besides, matters are settled now, my dear, and we’re to have no more
disputes. You’ve every reason to be satisfied; leave the others to act
as they please.”

“It’s only the old woman who is laughing,” La Sarriette remarked; “La
Normande looks anything but happy.”

Meantime, upstairs in his bedroom, Florent allowed himself to be taken
as unresistingly as a sheep. The police officers sprang roughly
upon him, expecting, no doubt, that they would meet with a desperate
resistance. He quietly begged them to leave go of him; and then sat
down on a chair while they packed up his papers, and the red scarves,
armlets, and banners. He did not seem at all surprised at this ending;
indeed, it was something of a relief to him, though he would not frankly
confess it. But he suffered acutely at thought of the bitter hatred
which had sent him into that room; he recalled Auguste’s pale face and
the sniggering looks of the fish-wives; he bethought himself of old
Madame Mehudin’s words, La Normande’s silence, and the empty shop
downstairs. The markets were leagued against him, he reflected; the
whole neighbourhood had conspired to hand him over to the police. The
mud of those greasy streets had risen up all around to overwhelm him!

And amidst all the round faces which flitted before his mind’s eye there
suddenly appeared that of Quenu, and a spasm of mortal agony contracted
his heart.

“Come, get along downstairs!” exclaimed one of the officers, roughly.

Florent rose and proceeded to go downstairs. When he reached the second
floor he asked to be allowed to return; he had forgotten something, he
said. But the officers refused to let him go back, and began to hustle
him forward. Then he besought them to let him return to his room again,
and even offered them the money he had in his pocket. Two of them at
last consented to return with him, threatening to blow his brains out
should he attempt to play them any trick; and they drew their revolvers
out of their pockets as they spoke. However, on reaching his room once
more Florent simply went straight to the chaffinch’s cage, took the
bird out of it, kissed it between its wings, and set it at liberty.
He watched it fly away through the open window, into the sunshine, and
alight, as though giddy, on the roof of the fish market. Then it flew
off again and disappeared over the markets in the direction of the
Square des Innocents. For a moment longer Florent remained face to face
with the sky, the free and open sky; and he thought of the wood-pigeons
cooing in the garden of the Tuileries, and of those other pigeons down
in the market cellars with their throats slit by Marjolin’s knife. Then
he felt quite broken, and turned and followed the officers, who were
putting their revolvers back into their pockets as they shrugged their

On reaching the bottom of the stairs, Florent stopped before the door
which led into the kitchen. The commissary, who was waiting for him
there, seemed almost touched by his gentle submissiveness, and asked
him: “Would you like to say good-bye to your brother?”

For a moment Florent hesitated. He looked at the door. A tremendous
noise of cleavers and pans came from the kitchen. Lisa, with the
design of keeping her husband occupied, had persuaded him to make the
black-puddings in the morning instead of in the evening, as was his
wont. The onions were simmering on the fire, and over all the noisy
uproar Florent could hear Quenu’s joyous voice exclaiming, “Ah, dash it
all, the pudding will be excellent, that it will! Auguste, hand me the

Florent thanked the commissary, but refused his offer. He was afraid
to return any more into that warm kitchen, reeking with the odour of
boiling onions, and so he went on past the door, happy in the thought
that his brother knew nothing of what had happened to him, and hastening
his steps as if to spare the establishment all further worry. However,
on emerging into the open sunshine of the street he felt a touch of
shame, and got into the cab with bent back and ashen face. He was
conscious that the fish market was gazing at him in triumph; it seemed
to him, indeed, as though the whole neighbourhood had gathered there to
rejoice at his fall.

“What a villainous expression he’s got!” said Mademoiselle Saget.

“Yes, indeed, he looks just like a thief caught with his hand in
somebody’s till,” added Madame Lecoeur.

“I once saw a man guillotined who looked exactly like he does,” asserted
La Sarriette, showing her white teeth.

They stepped forward, lengthened their necks, and tried to see into the
cab. Just as it was starting, however, the old maid tugged sharply at
the skirts of her companions, and pointed to Claire, who was coming
round the corner of the Rue Pirouette, looking like a mad creature,
with her hair loose and her nails bleeding. She had at last succeeded
in opening her door. When she discovered that she was too late, and
that Florent was being taken off, she darted after the cab, but checked
herself almost immediately with a gesture of impotent rage, and shook
her fists at the receding wheels. Then, with her face quite crimson
beneath the fine plaster dust with which she was covered, she ran back
again towards the Rue Pirouette.

“Had he promised to marry her, eh?” exclaimed La Sarriette, laughing.
“The silly fool must be quite cracked.”

Little by little the neighbourhood calmed down, though throughout the
day groups of people constantly assembled and discussed the events of
the morning. The pork shop was the object of much inquisitive curiosity.
Lisa avoided appearing there, and left the counter in charge of
Augustine. In the afternoon she felt bound to tell Quenu of what had
happened, for fear the news might cause him too great a shock should
he hear it from some gossiping neighbour. She waited till she was alone
with him in the kitchen, knowing that there he was always most cheerful,
and would weep less than if he were anywhere else. Moreover, she
communicated her tidings with all sorts of motherly precautions.
Nevertheless, as soon as he knew the truth he fell on the
chopping-block, and began to cry like a calf.

“Now, now, my poor dear, don’t give way like that; you’ll make yourself
quite ill,” exclaimed Lisa, taking him in her arms.

His tears were inundating his white apron, the whole of his massive,
torpid form quivered with grief. He seemed to be sinking, melting away.
When he was at last able to speak, he stammered: “Oh, you don’t know how
good he was to me when we lived together in the Rue Royer-Collard! He
did everything. He swept the room and cooked the meals. He loved me as
though I were his own child; and after his day’s work he used to come
back splashed with mud, and so tired that he could scarcely move, while
I stayed warm and comfortable in the house, and had nothing to do but
eat. And now they’re going to shoot him!”

At this Lisa protested, saying that he would certainly not be shot. But
Quenu only shook his head.

“I haven’t loved him half as much as I ought to have done,” he
continued. “I can see that very well now. I had a wicked heart, and I
hesitated about giving him his half of the money.”

“Why, I offered it to him a dozen times and more!” Lisa interrupted.
“I’m sure we’ve nothing to reproach ourselves with.”

“Oh, yes, I know that you are everything that is good, and that you
would have given him every copper. But I hesitated, I didn’t like to
part with it; and now it will be a sorrow to me for the rest of my life.
I shall always think that if I’d shared the fortune with him he wouldn’t
have gone wrong a second time. Oh, yes; it’s my fault! It is I who have
driven him to this.”

Then Lisa, expostulating still more gently, assured him that he had
nothing to blame himself for, and even expressed some pity for Florent.
But he was really very culpable, she said, and if he had had more money
he would probably have perpetrated greater follies. Gradually she gave
her husband to understand that it was impossible matters could have had
any other termination, and that now everything would go on much better.
Quenu was still weeping, wiping his cheeks with his apron, trying to
suppress his sobs to listen to her, and then breaking into a wilder
fit of tears than before. His fingers had mechanically sought a heap
of sausage-meat lying on the block, and he was digging holes in it, and
roughly kneading it together.

“And how unwell you were feeling, you know,” Lisa continued. “It was all
because our life had got so shifted out of its usual course. I was very
anxious, though I didn’t tell you so, at seeing you getting so low.”

“Yes, wasn’t I?” he murmured, ceasing to sob for a moment.

“And the business has been quite under a cloud this year. It was as
though a spell had been cast on it. Come, now, don’t take on so; you’ll
see that everything will look up again now. You must take care of
yourself, you know, for my sake and your daughter’s. You have duties to
us as well as to others, remember.”

Quenu was now kneading the sausage-meat more gently. Another burst
of emotion was thrilling him, but it was a softer emotion, which was
already bringing a vague smile to his grief-stricken face. Lisa felt
that she had convinced him, and she turned and called to Pauline, who
was playing in the shop, and sat her on Quenu’s knee.

“Tell your father, Pauline, that he ought not to give way like this. Ask
him nicely not to go on distressing us so.”

The child did as she was told, and their fat, sleek forms united in a
general embrace. They all three looked at one another, already feeling
cured of that twelve months’ depression from which they had but just
emerged. Their big, round faces smiled, and Lisa softly repeated, “And
after all, my dear, there are only we three, you know, only we three.”

Two months later Florent was again sentenced to transportation. The
affair caused a great stir. The newspapers published all possible
details, and gave portraits of the accused, sketches of the banners and
scarves, and plans of the places where the conspirators had met. For a
fortnight nothing but the great plot of the central markets was talked
of in Paris. The police kept on launching more and more alarming
reports, and it was at last even declared that the whole of the
Montmartre Quarter was undermined. The excitement in the Corps
Legislatif was so intense that the members of the Centre and the Right
forgot their temporary disagreement over the Imperial Grant Bill, and
became reconciled. And then by an overwhelming majority they voted the
unpopular tax, of which even the lower classes, in the panic which was
sweeping over the city, dared no longer complain.

The trial lasted a week. Florent was very much surprised at the number
of accomplices with which he found himself credited. Out of the twenty
and more who were placed in the dock with him, he knew only some six
or seven. After the sentence of the court had been read, he fancied
he could see Robine’s innocent-looking hat and back going off quietly
through the crowd. Logre was acquitted, as was also Lacaille; Alexandre
was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for his child-like complicity
in the conspiracy; while as for Gavard, he, like Florent, was condemned
to transportation. This was a heavy blow, which quite crushed him amidst
the final enjoyment that he derived from those lengthy proceedings in
which he had managed to make himself so conspicuous. He was paying
very dearly for the way in which he had vented the spirit of perpetual
opposition peculiar to the Paris shopkeeping classes. Two big tears
coursed down his scared face--the face of a white-haired child.

And then one morning in August, amidst the busy awakening of the
markets, Claude Lantier, sauntering about in the thick of the arriving
vegetables, with his waist tightly girded by his red sash, came to grasp
Madame Francois’s hand close by Saint Eustache. She was sitting on her
carrots and turnips, and her long face looked very sad. The artist, too,
was gloomy, notwithstanding the bright sun which was already softening
the deep-green velvet of the mountains of cabbages.

“Well, it’s all over now,” he said. “They are sending him back again.
He’s already on his way to Brest, I believe.”

Madame Francois made a gesture of mute grief. Then she gently waved her
hand around, and murmured in a low voice; “Ah, it is all Paris’s doing,
this villainous Paris!”

“No, no, not quite that; but I know whose doing it is, the contemptible
creatures!” exclaimed Claude, clenching his fists. “Do you know, Madame
Francois, there was nothing too ridiculous for those fellows in the
court to say! Why, they even went ferreting in a child’s copy-books!
That great idiot of a Public Prosecutor made a tremendous fuss over
them, and ranted about the respect due to children, and the wickedness
of demagogical education! It makes me quite sick to think of it all!”

A shudder of disgust shook him, and then, burying himself more deeply
in his discoloured cloak, he resumed: “To think of it! A man who was
as gentle as a girl! Why, I saw him turn quite faint at seeing a pigeon
killed! I couldn’t help smiling with pity when I saw him between two
gendarmes. Ah, well, we shall never see him again! He won’t come back
this time.”

“He ought to have listened to me,” said Madame Francois, after a pause,
“and have come to live at Nanterre with my fowls and rabbits. I was
very fond of him, you see, for I could tell that he was a good-hearted
fellow. Ah, we might have been so happy together! It’s a sad pity. Well,
we must bear it as best we can, Monsieur Claude. Come and see me one of
these days. I’ll have an omelet ready for you.”

Her eyes were dim with tears; but all at once she sprang up like a brave
woman who bears her sorrows with fortitude.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, “here’s old Mother Chantemesse coming to buy some
turnips of me. The fat old lady’s as sprightly as ever!”

Claude went off, and strolled about the footways. The dawn had risen in
the white sheaf of light at the end of the Rue Rambuteau; and the sun,
now level with the house-tops, was diffusing rosy rays which already
fell in warm patches on the pavements. Claude was conscious of a
gay awakening in the huge resonant markets--indeed, all over the
neighbourhood--crowded with piles of food. It was like the joy that
comes after cure, the mirth of folks who are at last relieved of a heavy
weight which has been pulling them down. He saw La Sarriette displaying
a gold chain and singing amidst her plums and strawberries, while she
playfully pulled the moustaches of Monsieur Jules, who was arrayed in a
velvet jacket. He also caught sight of Madame Lecoeur and Mademoiselle
Saget passing along one of the covered ways, and looking less sallow
than usual--indeed, almost rosy--as they laughed like bosom friends
over some amusing story. In the fish market, old Madame Mehudin, who
had returned to her stall, was slapping her fish, abusing customers, and
snubbing the new inspector, a presumptuous young man whom she had sworn
to spank; while Claire, seemingly more languid and indolent than ever,
extended her hands, blue from immersion in the water of her tanks, to
gather together a great heap of edible snails, shimmering with silvery
slime. In the tripe market Auguste and Augustine, with the foolish
expression of newly-married people, had just been purchasing some
pigs’ trotters, and were starting off in a trap for their pork shop at
Montrouge. Then, as it was now eight o’clock and already quite warm,
Claude, on again coming to the Rue Rambuteau, perceived Muche and
Pauline playing at horses. Muche was crawling along on all-fours, while
Pauline sat on his back, and clung to his hair to keep herself from
falling. However, a moving shadow which fell from the eaves of the
market roof made Claude look up; and he then espied Cadine and Marjolin
aloft, kissing and warming themselves in the sunshine, parading their
loves before the whole neighbourhood like a pair of light-hearted

Claude shook his fist at them. All this joyousness down below and on
high exasperated him. He reviled the Fat; the Fat, he declared, had
conquered the Thin. All around him he could see none but the Fat
protruding their paunches, bursting with robust health, and greeting
with delight another day of gorging and digestion. And a last blow was
dealt to him by the spectacle which he perceived on either hand as he
halted opposite the Rue Pirouette.

On his right, the beautiful Norman, or the beautiful Madame Lebigre, as
she was now called, stood at the door of her shop. Her husband had at
length been granted the privilege of adding a State tobacco agency[*] to
his wine shop, a long-cherished dream of his which he had finally
been able to realise through the great services he had rendered to the
authorities. And to Claude the beautiful Madame Lebigre looked superb,
with her silk dress and her frizzed hair, quite ready to take her seat
behind her counter, whither all the gentlemen in the neighbourhood
flocked to buy their cigars and packets of tobacco. She had become
quite distinguished, quite the lady. The shop behind her had been newly
painted, with borders of twining vine-branches showing against a soft
background; the zinc-plated wine-counter gleamed brightly, and in the
tall mirror the flasks of liqueurs set brighter flashes of colour than
ever. And the mistress of all these things stood smiling radiantly at
the bright sunshine.

     [*] Most readers will remember that the tobacco trade is a
     State monopoly in France. The retail tobacconists are merely
     Government agents.--Translator.

Then, on Claude’s left, the beautiful Lisa blocked up the doorway of
her shop as she stood on the threshold. Never before had her linen shone
with such dazzling whiteness; never had her serene face and rosy cheeks
appeared in a more lustrous setting of glossy locks. She displayed the
deep calmness of repletion, a massive tranquillity unruffled even by a
smile. She was a picture of absolute quietude, of perfect felicity, not
only cloudless but lifeless, the simple felicity of basking in the warm
atmosphere. Her tightly stretched bodice seemed to be still digesting
the happiness of yesterday; while her dimpled hands, hidden in the folds
of her apron, did not even trouble to grasp at the happiness of to-day,
certain as they were that it would come of itself. And the shop-window
at her side seemed to display the same felicity. It had recovered from
its former blight; the tongues lolled out, red and healthy; the hams
had regained their old chubbiness of form; the festoons of sausages no
longer wore that mournful air which had so greatly distressed Quenu.
Hearty laughter, accompanied by a jubilant clattering of pans, sounded
from the kitchen in the rear. The whole place again reeked with fat
health. The flitches of bacon and the sides of pork that hung against
the marble showed roundly like paunches, triumphant paunches, whilst
Lisa, with her imposing breadth of shoulders and dignity of mien, bade
the markets good morning with those big eyes of hers which so clearly
bespoke a gross feeder.

However, the two women bowed to each other. Beautiful Madame Lebigre and
beautiful Madame Quenu exchanged a friendly salute.

And then Claude, who had certainly forgotten to dine on the previous
day, was thrilled with anger at seeing them standing there, looking so
healthy and well-to-do with their buxom bosoms; and tightening his sash,
he growled in a tone of irritation:

“What blackguards respectable people are!”

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Fat and the Thin" ***

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