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However, she
glanced at Florent, who seemed to interest her; and then, unwilling to
go off without having the last word, she was imprudent enough to add: "I
bought some black-pudding of you the day before yesterday, you know, and
it wasn't quite sweet."

"Not quite sweet!" repeated Lisa, very pale, and her lips quivering.

She might, perhaps, have once more restrained herself, for fear of La
Normande imagining that she was overcome by envious spite at the
sight of the lace bow; but the girl, not content with playing the spy,
proceeded to insult her, and that was beyond endurance. So, leaning
forward, with her hands clenched on the counter, she exclaimed, in a
somewhat hoarse voice: "I say! when you sold me that pair of soles
last week, did I come and tell you, before everybody that they were
stinking?"

"Stinking! My soles stinking!" cried the fish dealer, flushing scarlet.

For a moment they remained silent, choking with anger, but glaring
fiercely at each other over the array of dishes. All their honeyed
friendship had vanished; a word had sufficed to reveal what sharp teeth
there were behind their smiling lips.

"You're a vulgar, low creature!" cried the beautiful Norman. "You'll
never catch me setting foot in here again, I can tell you!"

"Get along with you, get along with you," exclaimed beautiful Lisa. "I
know quite well whom I've got to deal with!"

The fish-girl went off, hurling behind her a coarse expression which
left Lisa quivering. The whole scene had passed so quickly that the
three men, overcome with amazement, had not had time to interfere.
Lisa soon recovered herself, and was resuming the conversation, without
making any allusion to what had just occurred, when the shop girl,
Augustine, returned from an errand on which she had been sent. Lisa
thereupon took Gavard aside, and after telling him to say nothing for
the present to Monsieur Verlaque, promised that she would undertake to
convince her brother-in-law in a couple of days' time at the utmost.
Quenu then returned to his kitchen, while Gavard took Florent off with
him. And as they were just going into Monsieur Lebigre's to drink a drop
of vermouth together he called his attention to three women standing in
the covered way between the fish and poultry pavilions.

"They're cackling together!" he said with an envious air.

The markets were growing empty, and Mademoiselle Saget, Madame Lecoeur,
and La Sarriette alone lingered on the edge of the footway. The old maid
was holding forth.

"As I told you before, Madame Lecoeur," said she, "they've always got
your brother-in-law in their shop. You saw him there yourself just now,
didn't you?"

"Oh yes, indeed! He was sitting on a table, and seemed quite at home."

"Well, for my part," interrupted La Sarriette, "I heard nothing wrong;
and I can't understand why you're making such a fuss."

Mademoiselle Saget shrugged her shoulders. "Ah, you're very innocent
yet, my dear," she said. "Can't you see why the Quenus are always
attracting Monsieur Gavard to their place? Well, I'll wager that he'll
leave all he has to their little Pauline."

"You believe that, do you?" cried Madame Lecoeur, white with rage. Then,
in a mournful voice, as though she had just received some heavy blow,
she continued: "I am alone in the world, and have no one to take my
part; he is quite at liberty to do as he pleases. His niece sides with
him too--you heard her just now. She has quite forgotten all that she
cost me, and wouldn't stir a hand to help me."

"Indeed, aunt," exclaimed La Sarriette, "you are quite wrong there! It's
you who've never had anything but unkind words for me."

They became reconciled on the spot, and kissed one another. The niece
promised that she would play no more pranks, and the aunt swore by
all she held most sacred that she looked upon La Sarriette as her own
daughter. Then Mademoiselle Saget advised them as to the steps they
ought to take to prevent Gavard from squandering his money. And they
all agreed that the Quenu-Gradelles were very disreputable folks, and
required closely watching.

"I don't know what they're up to just now," said the old maid, "but
there's something suspicious going on, I'm sure. What's your opinion,
now, of that fellow Florent, that cousin of Madame Quenu's?"

The three women drew more closely together, and lowered their voices.

"You remember," said Madame Lecoeur, "that we saw him one morning with
his boots all split, and his clothes covered with dust, looking just
like a thief who's been up to some roguery. That fellow quite frightens
me."

"Well, he's certainly very thin," said La Sarriette, "but he isn't
ugly."

Mademoiselle Saget was reflecting, and she expressed her thoughts
aloud. "I've been trying to find out something about him for the last
fortnight, but I can make nothing of it. Monsieur Gavard certainly knows
him. I must have met him myself somewhere before, but I can't remember
where."

She was still ransacking her memory when La Normande swept up to them
like a whirlwind. She had just left the pork shop.

"That big booby Lisa has got nice manners, I must say!" she cried,
delighted to be able to relieve herself. "Fancy her telling me that I
sold nothing but stinking fish! But I gave her as good as she deserved,
I can tell you! A nice den they keep, with their tainted pig meat which
poisons all their customers!"

"But what had you been saying to her?" asked the old maid, quite
frisky with excitement, and delighted to hear that the two women had
quarrelled.

"I! I'd said just nothing at all--no, not that! I just went into the
shop and told her very civilly that I'd buy some black-pudding to-morrow
evening, and then she overwhelmed me with abuse. A dirty hypocrite she
is, with her saint-like airs! But she'll pay more dearly for this than
she fancies!"

The three women felt that La Normande was not telling them the truth,
but this did not prevent them from taking her part with a rush of bad
language. They turned towards the Rue Rambuteau with insulting mien,
inventing all sorts of stories about the uncleanliness of the cookery at
the Quenu's shop, and making the most extraordinary accusations. If the
Quenus had been detected selling human flesh the women could not have
displayed more violent and threatening anger. The fish-girl was obliged
to tell her story three times over.

"And what did the cousin say?" asked Mademoiselle Saget, with wicked
intent.

"The cousin!" repeated La Normande, in a shrill voice. "Do you really
believe that he's a cousin? He's some lover or other, I'll wager, the
great booby!"

The three others protested against this. Lisa's honourability was an
article of faith in the neighbourhood.

"Stuff and nonsense!" retorted La Normande. "You can never be sure about
those smug, sleek hypocrites."

Mademoiselle Saget nodded her head as if to say that she was not
very far from sharing La Normande's opinion. And she softly added:
"Especially as this cousin has sprung from no one knows where; for it's
a very doubtful sort of account that the Quenus give of him."

"Oh, he's the fat woman's sweetheart, I tell you!" reaffirmed the
fish-girl; "some scamp or vagabond picked up in the streets. It's easy
enough to see it."

"She has given him a complete outfit," remarked Madame Lecoeur. "He must
be costing her a pretty penny."

"Yes, yes," muttered the old maid; "perhaps you are right. I must really
get to know something about him."

Then they all promised to keep one another thoroughly informed of
whatever might take place in the Quenu-Gradelle establishment. The
butter dealer pretended that she wished to open her brother-in-law's
eyes as to the sort of places he frequented. However, La Normande's
anger had by this time toned down, and, a good sort of girl at heart,
she went off, weary of having talked so much on the matter.

"I'm sure that La Normande said something or other insolent," remarked
Madame Lecoeur knowingly, when the fish-girl had left them. "It is just
her way; and it scarcely becomes a creature like her to talk as she did
of Lisa."

The three women looked at each other and smiled. Then, when Madame
Lecoeur also had gone off, La Sarriette remarked to Mademoiselle Saget:
"It is foolish of my aunt to worry herself so much about all these
affairs. It's that which makes her so thin. Ah! she'd have willingly
taken Gavard for a husband if she could only have got him. Yet she used
to beat me if ever a young man looked my way."

Mademoiselle Saget smiled once more. And when she found herself alone,
and went back towards the Rue Pirouette, she reflected that those three
cackling hussies were not worth a rope to hang them. She was, indeed,
a little afraid that she might have been seen with them, and the idea
somewhat troubled her, for she realised that it would be bad policy to
fall out with the Quenu-Gradelles, who, after all, were well-to-do folks
and much esteemed. So she went a little out of her way on purpose to
call at Taboureau the baker's in the Rue Turbigo--the finest baker's
shop in the whole neighbourhood. Madame Taboureau was not only an
intimate friend of Lisa's, but an accepted authority on every subject.
When it was remarked that "Madame Taboureau had said this," or "Madame
Taboureau had said that," there was no more to be urged. So the old
maid, calling at the baker's under pretence of inquiring at what time
the oven would be hot, as she wished to bring a dish of pears to be
baked, took the opportunity to eulogise Lisa, and lavish praise upon the
sweetness and excellence of her black-puddings. Then, well pleased at
having prepared this moral alibi and delighted at having done what she
could to fan the flames of a quarrel without involving herself in it,
she briskly returned home, feeling much easier in her mind, but
still striving to recall where she had previously seen Madame Quenu's
so-called cousin.

That same evening, after dinner, Florent went out and strolled for some
time in one of the covered ways of the markets. A fine mist was rising,
and a grey sadness, which the gas lights studded as with yellow tears,
hung over the deserted pavilions.



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