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Mouton was
sound asleep, with his stomach turned upwards, one of his paws resting
on his nose, and his tail twisted over this side, as though to keep him
warm; and he was slumbering with such an expression of feline happiness
that Florent, as he gazed at him, murmured: "No, it would be too
foolish! I accept the berth. Say that I accept it, Gavard."

Then Lisa finished eating her black-pudding, and wiped her fingers on
the edge of her apron. And next she got her brother-in-law's candle
ready for him, while Gavard and Quenu congratulated him on his decision.
It was always necessary for a man to settle down, said they; the
breakneck freaks of politics did not provide one with food. And,
meantime, Lisa, standing there with the lighted candle in her hand,
looked at him with an expression of satisfaction resting on her handsome
face, placid like that of some sacred cow.


Three days later the necessary formalities were gone through, and
without demur the police authorities at the Prefecture accepted Florent
on Monsieur Verlaque's recommendation as his substitute. Gavard, by the
way, had made it a point to accompany them. When he again found himself
alone with Florent he kept nudging his ribs with his elbow as they
walked along together, and laughed, without saying anything, while
winking his eyes in a jeering way. He seemed to find something very
ridiculous in the appearance of the police officers whom they met on
the Quai de l'Horloge, for, as he passed them, he slightly shrugged his
shoulders and made the grimace of a man seeking to restrain himself from
laughing in people's faces.

On the following morning Monsieur Verlaque began to initiate the new
inspector into the duties of his office. It had been arranged that
during the next few days he should make him acquainted with the
turbulent sphere which he would have to supervise. Poor Verlaque,
as Gavard called him was a pale little man, swathed in flannels,
handkerchiefs, and mufflers. Constantly coughing, he made his way
through the cool, moist atmosphere, and running waters of the fish
market, on a pair of scraggy legs like those of a sickly child.

When Florent made his appearance on the first morning, at seven o'clock,
he felt quite distracted; his eyes were dazed, his head ached with
all the noise and riot. Retail dealers were already prowling about
the auction pavilion; clerks were arriving with their ledgers, and
consigners' agents, with leather bags slung over their shoulders, sat
on overturned chairs by the salesmen's desks, waiting to receive their
cash. Fish was being unloaded and unpacked not only in the enclosure,
but even on the footways. All along the latter were piles of small
baskets, an endless arrival of cases and hampers, and sacks of mussels,
from which streamlets of water trickled. The auctioneers' assistants,
all looking very busy, sprang over the heaps, tore away the straw at
the tops of the baskets, emptied the latter, and tossed them aside.
They then speedily transferred their contents in lots to huge wickerwork
trays, arranging them with a turn of the hand so that they might show
to the best advantage. And when the large tray-like baskets were all
set out, Florent could almost fancy that a whole shoal of fish had got
stranded there, still quivering with life, and gleaming with rosy nacre,
scarlet coral, and milky pearl, all the soft, pale, sheeny hues of the

The deep-lying forests of seaweed, in which the mysterious life of the
ocean slumbers, seemed at one haul of the nets to have yielded up all
they contained. There were cod, keeling, whiting, flounders, plaice,
dabs, and other sorts of common fish of a dingy grey with whitish
splotches; there were conger-eels, huge serpent-like creatures, with
small black eyes and muddy, bluish skins, so slimy that they still
seemed to be gliding along, yet alive. There were broad flat skate
with pale undersides edged with a soft red, and superb backs bumpy with
vertebrae, and marbled down to the tautly stretched ribs of their
fins with splotches of cinnabar, intersected by streaks of the tint of
Florentine bronze--a dark medley of colour suggestive of the hues of a
toad or some poisonous flower. Then, too, there were hideous dog-fish,
with round heads, widely-gaping mouths like those of Chinese idols, and
short fins like bats' wings; fit monsters to keep yelping guard over the
treasures of the ocean grottoes. And next came the finer fish, displayed
singly on the osier trays; salmon that gleamed like chased silver, every
scale seemingly outlined by a graving-tool on a polished metal surface;
mullet with larger scales and coarser markings; large turbot and huge
brill with firm flesh white like curdled milk; tunny-fish, smooth and
glossy, like bags of blackish leather; and rounded bass, with widely
gaping mouths which a soul too large for the body seemed to have rent
asunder as it forced its way out amidst the stupefaction of death. And
on all sides there were sole, brown and grey, in pairs; sand-eels, slim
and stiff, like shavings of pewter; herrings, slightly twisted, with
bleeding gills showing on their silver-worked skins; fat dories tinged
with just a suspicion of carmine; burnished mackerel with green-streaked
backs, and sides gleaming with ever-changing iridescence; and rosy
gurnets with white bellies, their head towards the centre of the baskets
and their tails radiating all around, so that they simulated some
strange florescence splotched with pearly white and brilliant vermilion.
There were rock mullet, too, with delicious flesh, flushed with the
pinky tinge peculiar to the Cyprinus family; boxes of whiting with
opaline reflections; and baskets of smelts--neat little baskets, pretty
as those used for strawberries, and exhaling a strong scent of violets.
And meantime the tiny black eyes of the shrimps dotted as with beads
of jet their soft-toned mass of pink and grey; and spiny crawfish and
lobsters striped with black, all still alive, raised a grating sound as
they tried to crawl along with their broken claws.

Florent gave but indifferent attention to Monsieur Verlaque's
explanations. A flood of sunshine suddenly streamed through the lofty
glass roof of the covered way, lighting up all these precious colours,
toned and softened by the waves--the iridescent flesh-tints of the
shell-fish, the opal of the whiting, the pearly nacre of the mackerel,
the ruddy gold of the mullets, the plated skins of the herrings, and
massive silver of the salmon. It was as though the jewel-cases of some
sea-nymph had been emptied there--a mass of fantastical, undreamt-of
ornaments, a streaming and heaping of necklaces, monstrous bracelets,
gigantic brooches, barbaric gems and jewels, the use of which could not
be divined. On the backs of the skate and the dog-fish you saw, as it
were, big dull green and purple stones set in dark metal, while the
slender forms of the sand-eels and the tails and fins of the smelts
displayed all the delicacy of finely wrought silver-work.

And meantime Florent's face was fanned by a fresh breeze, a sharp, salt
breeze redolent of the sea. It reminded him of the coasts of Guiana and
his voyages. He half fancied that he was gazing at some bay left dry by
the receding tide, with the seaweed steaming in the sun, the bare rocks
drying, and the beach smelling strongly of the brine. All around him
the fish in their perfect freshness exhaled a pleasant perfume, that
slightly sharp, irritating perfume which depraves the appetite.

Monsieur Verlaque coughed. The dampness was affecting him, and he
wrapped his muffler more closely about his neck.

"Now," said he, "we will pass on to the fresh water fish."

This was in a pavilion beside the fruit market, the last one, indeed, in
the direction of the Rue Rambuteau. On either side of the space reserved
for the auctions were large circular stone basins, divided into separate
compartments by iron gratings. Slender streams of water flowed from
brass jets shaped like swan's necks; and the compartments were filled
with swarming colonies of crawfish, black-backed carp ever on the
move, and mazy tangles of eels, incessantly knotting and unknotting
themselves. Again was Monsieur Verlaque attacked by an obstinate fit
of coughing. The moisture of the atmosphere was more insipid here
than amongst the sea water fish: there was a riverside scent, as of
sun-warmed water slumbering on a bed of sand.

A great number of crawfishes had arrived from Germany that morning in
cases and hampers, and the market was also crowded with river fish from
Holland and England. Several men were unpacking shiny carp from the
Rhine, lustrous with ruddy metallic hues, their scales resembling
bronzed _cloisonne_ enamel; and others were busy with huge pike, the
cruel iron-grey brigands of the waters, who ravenously protruded their
savage jaws; or with magnificent dark-hued with verdigris. And amidst
these suggestions of copper, iron, and bronze, the gudgeon and perch,
the trout, the bleak, and the flat-fish taken in sweep-nets showed
brightly white, the steel-blue tints of their backs gradually toning
down to the soft transparency of their bellies. However, it was the
fat snowy-white barbel that supplied the liveliest brightness in this
gigantic collection of still life.

Bags of young carp were being gently emptied into the basins. The fish
spun round, then remained motionless for a moment, and at last shot away
and disappeared. Little eels were turned out of their hampers in a mass,
and fell to the bottom of the compartments like tangled knots of snakes;
while the larger ones--those whose bodies were about as thick as a
child's arm--raised their heads and slipped of their own accord into the
water with the supple motion of serpents gliding into the concealment
of a thicket. And meantime the other fish, whose death agony had
been lasting all the morning as they lay on the soiled osiers of the
basket-trays, slowly expired amidst all the uproar of the auctions,
opening their mouths as though to inhale the moisture of the air, with
great silent gasps, renewed every few seconds.

However, Monsieur Verlaque brought Florent back to the salt water fish.
He took him all over the place and gave him the minutest particulars
about everything.

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