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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
left."

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
acquaintance.

"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
more.

"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
shoulder.

"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.



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