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He almost stifled beneath the
interminable expanse of foliage. The gloomy shade reeked with close,
oppressive heat, a clammy dankness and pestilential sweat, impregnated
with the coarse aroma of scented wood and malodorous flowers.

"And when at last, after a long weary tramp, the man made his way out of
the forest and beheld the sky again, he found himself confronted by wide
rivers which barred his way. He skirted their banks, keeping a watchful
eye on the grey backs of the alligators and the masses of drifting
vegetation, and then, when he came to a less suspicious-looking spot,
he swam across. And beyond the rivers the forests began again. At other
times there were vast prairie lands, leagues of thick vegetation, in
which, at distant intervals, small lakes gleamed bluely. The man then
made a wide detour, and sounded the ground beneath him before advancing,
having but narrowly escaped from being swallowed up and buried beneath
one of those smiling plains which he could hear cracking at each step he
took. The giant grass, nourished by all the collected humus, concealed
pestiferous marshes, depths of liquid mud; and amongst the expanses of
verdure spread over the glaucous immensity to the very horizon there
were only narrow stretches of firm ground with which the traveller must
be acquainted if he would avoid disappearing for ever. One night the
man sank down as far as his waist. At each effort he made to extricate
himself the mud threatened to rise to his mouth. Then he remained
quite still for nearly a couple of hours; and when the moon rose he was
fortunately able to catch hold of a branch of a tree above his head. By
the time he reached a human dwelling his hands and feet were bruised and
bleeding, swollen with poisonous stings. He presented such a pitiable,
famished appearance that those who saw him were afraid of him. They
tossed him some food fifty yards away from the house, and the master of
it kept guard over his door with a loaded gun."

Florent stopped, his voice choked by emotion, and his eyes gazing
blankly before him. For some minutes he had seemed to be speaking to
himself alone. Little Pauline, who had grown drowsy, was lying in his
arms with her head thrown back, though striving to keep her wondering
eyes open. And Quenu, for his part, appeared to be getting impatient.

"Why, you stupid!" he shouted to Leon, "don't you know how to hold a
skin yet? What do you stand staring at me for? It's the skin you should
look at, not me! There, hold it like that, and don't move again!"

With his right hand Leon was raising a long string of sausage-skin, at
one end of which a very wide funnel was inserted; while with his left
hand he coiled the black-pudding round a metal bowl as fast as Quenu
filled the funnel with big spoonfuls of the meat. The latter, black and
steaming, flowed through the funnel, gradually inflating the skin, which
fell down again, gorged to repletion and curving languidly. As Quenu had
removed the pot from the range both he and Leon stood out prominently,
he broad visaged, and the lad slender of profile, in the burning glow
which cast over their pale faces and white garments a flood of rosy
light.

Lisa and Augustine watched the filling of the skin with great interest,
Lisa especially; and she in her turn found fault with Leon because he
nipped the skin too tightly with his fingers, which caused knots to
form, she said. When the skin was quite full, Quenu let it slip gently
into a pot of boiling water; and seemed quite easy in his mind again,
for now nothing remained but to leave it to boil.

"And the man--go on about the man!" murmured Pauline, opening her eyes,
and surprised at no longer hearing the narrative.

Florent rocked her on his knee, and resumed his story in a slow,
murmuring voice, suggestive of that of a nurse singing an infant to
sleep.

"The man," he said, "arrived at a large town. There he was at first
taken for an escaped convict, and was kept in prison for several months.
Then he was released, and turned his hand to all sorts of work. He
kept accounts and taught children to read, and at one time he was even
employed as a navvy in making an embankment. He was continually hoping
to return to his own country. He had saved the necessary amount of money
when he was attacked by yellow fever. Then, believing him to be dead,
those about him divided his clothes amongst themselves; so that when he
at last recovered he had not even a shirt left. He had to begin all over
again. The man was very weak, and was afraid he might have to remain
where he was. But at last he was able to get away, and he returned."

His voice had sunk lower and lower, and now died away altogether in a
final quivering of his lips. The close of the story had lulled little
Pauline to sleep, and she was now slumbering with her head on Florent's
shoulder. He held her with one arm, and still gently rocked her on his
knee. No one seemed to pay any further attention to him, so he remained
still and quiet where he was, holding the sleeping child.

Now came the tug of war, as Quenu said. He had to remove the
black-puddings from the pot. In order to avoid breaking them or getting
them entangled, he coiled them round a thick wooden pin as he drew them
out, and then carried them into the yard and hung them on screens, where
they quickly dried. Leon helped him, holding up the drooping ends. And
as these reeking festoons of black-pudding crossed the kitchen they left
behind them a trail of odorous steam, which still further thickened the
dense atmosphere.

Auguste, on his side, after giving a hasty glance at the lard moulds,
now took the covers off the two pots in which the fat was simmering, and
each bursting bubble discharged an acrid vapour into the kitchen. The
greasy haze had been gradually rising ever since the beginning of
the evening, and now it shrouded the gas and pervaded the whole room,
streaming everywhere, and veiling the ruddy whiteness of Quenu and his
two assistants. Lisa and Augustine had risen from their seats; and all
were panting as though they had eaten too much.

Augustine carried the sleeping Pauline upstairs; and Quenu, who liked to
fasten up the kitchen himself, gave Auguste and Leon leave to go to
bed, saying that he would fetch the black-pudding himself. The younger
apprentice stole off with a very red face, having managed to secrete
under his shirt nearly a yard of the pudding, which must have almost
scalded him. Then the Quenus and Florent remained alone, in silence.
Lisa stood nibbling a little piece of the hot pudding, keeping her
pretty lips well apart all the while, for fear of burning them, and
gradually the black compound vanished in her rosy mouth.

"Well," said she, "La Normande was foolish in behaving so rudely; the
black-pudding's excellent to-day."

However, there was a knock at the passage door, and Gavard, who stayed
at Monsieur Lebigre's every evening until midnight, came in. He had
called for a definite answer about the fish inspectorship.

"You must understand," he said, "that Monsieur Verlaque cannot wait any
longer; he is too ill. So Florent must make up his mind. I have promised
to give a positive answer early to-morrow."

"Well, Florent accepts," Lisa quietly remarked, taking another nibble at
some black-pudding.

Florent, who had remained in his chair, overcome by a strange feeling of
prostration, vainly endeavoured to rise and protest.

"No, no, say nothing," continued Lisa; "the matter is quite settled. You
have suffered quite enough already, my dear Florent. What you have just
been telling us is enough to make one shudder. It is time now for you
to settle down. You belong to a respectable family, you received a good
education, and it is really not fitting that you should go wandering
about the highways like a vagrant. At your age childishness is no longer
excusable. You have been foolish; well, all that will be forgotten
and forgiven. You will take your place again among those of your own
class--the class of respectable folks--and live in future like other
people."

Florent listened in astonishment, quite unable to say a word. Lisa
was, doubtless, right. She looked so healthy, so serene, that it was
impossible to imagine that she desired anything but what was proper. It
was he, with his fleshless body and dark, equivocal-looking countenance,
who must be in the wrong, and indulging in unrighteous dreams. He could,
indeed, no longer understand why he had hitherto resisted.

Lisa, however, continued to talk to him with an abundant flow of words,
as though he were a little boy found in fault and threatened with the
police. She assumed, indeed, a most maternal manner, and plied him with
the most convincing reasons. And at last, as a final argument, she said:

"Do it for us, Florent. We occupy a fair position in the neighbourhood
which obliges us to use a certain amount of circumspection; and, to tell
you the truth, between ourselves, I'm afraid that people will begin
to talk. This inspectorship will set everything right; you will be
somebody; you will even be an honour to us."

Her manner had become caressingly persuasive, and Florent was penetrated
by all the surrounding plenteousness, all the aroma filling the kitchen,
where he fed, as it were, on the nourishment floating in the atmosphere.
He sank into blissful meanness, born of all the copious feeding that
went on in the sphere of plenty in which he had been living during the
last fortnight. He felt, as it were, the titillation of forming fat
which spread slowly all over his body. He experienced the languid
beatitude of shopkeepers, whose chief concern is to fill their bellies.
At this late hour of night, in the warm atmosphere of the kitchen, all
his acerbity and determination melted away. That peaceable evening,
with the odour of the black-pudding and the lard, and the sight of plump
little Pauline slumbering on his knee, had so enervated him that he
found himself wishing for a succession of such evenings--endless ones
which would make him fat.

However, it was the sight of Mouton that chiefly decided him.



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