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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
comical.

"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,
uncle?"

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
enough."

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
longer!"

Then she left the shop and ran across the road.

"It was Mademoiselle Saget who sent her here," remarked handsome Lisa
drily.

Then silence fell again for some moments. Gavard was dismayed at
Florent's reception of his proposal. Lisa was the first to speak.



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