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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
about.'"

"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
yet?"

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.



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