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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
devotion.

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.



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