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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
Florent.

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."



CHAPTER II

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
evening.

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.



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