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Ever since his escape from the greasy
drowsiness of the kitchen he had been accusing himself of base weakness
with such violence that tears had almost risen in his eyes. But he did
not dare to go back on his word. He was a little afraid of Lisa, and
could see the curl of her lips and the look of mute reproach upon her
handsome face. He felt that she was too serious a woman to be trifled
with. However, Gavard happily inspired him with a consoling thought.
On the evening of the day on which Monsieur Verlaque had conducted him
through the auction sales, Gavard took him aside and told him, with a
good deal of hesitation, that "the poor devil" was not at all well off.
And after various remarks about the scoundrelly Government which ground
the life out of its servants without allowing them even the means to die
in comfort, he ended by hinting that it would be charitable on Florent's
part to surrender a part of his salary to the old inspector. Florent
welcomed the suggestion with delight. It was only right, he considered,
for he looked upon himself simply as Monsieur Verlaque's temporary
substitute; and besides, he himself really required nothing, as he
boarded and lodged with his brother. Gavard added that he thought if
Florent gave up fifty francs out of the hundred and fifty which he
would receive monthly, the arrangement would be everything that could
be desired; and, lowering his voice, he added that it would not be for
long, for the poor fellow was consumptive to his very bones. Finally
it was settled that Florent should see Monsieur Verlaque's wife, and
arrange matters with her, to avoid any possibility of hurting the old
man's feelings.

The thought of this kindly action afforded Florent great relief, and he
now accepted his duties with the object of doing good, thus continuing
to play the part which he had been fulfilling all his life. However, he
made the poultry dealer promise that he would not speak of the matter
to anyone; and as Gavard also felt a vague fear of Lisa, he kept the
secret, which was really very meritorious in him.

And now the whole pork shop seemed happy. Handsome Lisa manifested the
greatest friendliness towards her brother-in-law. She took care that he
went to bed early, so as to be able to rise in good time; she kept his
breakfast hot for him; and she no longer felt ashamed at being seen
talking to him on the footway, now that he wore a laced cap. Quenu,
quite delighted by all these good signs, sat down to table in the
evening between his wife and brother with a lighter heart than ever.
They often lingered over dinner till nine o'clock, leaving the shop in
Augustine's charge, and indulging in a leisurely digestion interspersed
with gossip about the neighbourhood, and the dogmatic opinions of Lisa
on political topics; Florent also had to relate how matters had gone in
the fish market that day. He gradually grew less frigid, and began
to taste the happiness of a well-regulated existence. There was a
well-to-do comfort and trimness about the light yellowish dining room
which had a softening influence upon him as soon as he crossed its
threshold. Handsome Lisa's kindly attentions wrapped him, as it were, in
cotton-wool; and mutual esteem and concord reigned paramount.

Gavard, however, considered the Quenu-Gradelles' home to be too drowsy.
He forgave Lisa her weakness for the Emperor, because, he said, one
ought never to discuss politics with women, and beautiful Madame
Quenu was, after all, a very worthy person, who managed her business
admirably. Nevertheless, he much preferred to spend his evenings at
Monsieur Lebigre's, where he met a group of friends who shared his own
opinions. Thus when Florent was appointed to the inspectorship of the
fish market, Gavard began to lead him astray, taking him off for hours,
and prompting him to lead a bachelor's life now that he had obtained a
berth.

Monsieur Lebigre was the proprietor of a very fine establishment, fitted
up in the modern luxurious style. Occupying the right-hand corner of the
Rue Pirouette, and looking on to the Rue Rambuteau, it formed, with its
four small Norwegian pines in green-painted tubs flanking the doorway, a
worthy pendant to the big pork shop of the Quenu-Gradelles. Through the
clear glass windows you could see the interior, which was decorated with
festoons of foliage, vine branches, and grapes, painted on a soft green
ground. The floor was tiled with large black and white squares. At
the far end was the yawning cellar entrance, above which rose a spiral
staircase hung with red drapery, and leading to the billiard-room on the
first floor. The counter or "bar" on the right looked especially rich,
and glittered like polished silver. Its zinc-work, hanging with a broad
bulging border over the sub-structure of white and red marble, edged it
with a rippling sheet of metal as if it were some high altar laden
with embroidery. At one end, over a gas stove, stood porcelain pots,
decorated with circles of brass, and containing punch and hot wine. At
the other extremity was a tall and richly sculptured marble fountain,
from which a fine stream of water, so steady and continuous that it
looked as though it were motionless, flowed into a basin. In the centre,
edged on three sides by the sloping zinc surface of the counter, was a
second basin for rinsing and cooling purposes, where quart bottles of
draught wine, partially empty, reared their greenish necks. Then on the
counter, to the right and left of this central basin, were batches
of glasses symmetrically arranged: little glasses for brandy, thick
tumblers for draught wine, cup glasses for brandied fruits, glasses for
absinthe, glass mugs for beer, and tall goblets, all turned upside down
and reflecting the glitter of the counter. On the left, moreover, was a
metal urn, serving as a receptacle for gratuities; whilst a similar one
on the right bristled with a fan-like arrangement of coffee spoons.

Monsieur Lebigre was generally to be found enthroned behind his counter
upon a seat covered with buttoned crimson leather. Within easy reach of
his hand were the liqueurs in cut-glass decanters protruding from the
compartments of a stand. His round back rested against a huge mirror
which completely filled the panel behind him; across it ran two glass
shelves supporting an array of jars and bottles. Upon one of them the
glass jars of preserved fruits, cherries, plums, and peaches, stood out
darkly; while on the other, between symmetrically arranged packets of
finger biscuits, were bright flasks of soft green and red and yellow
glass, suggesting strange mysterious liqueurs, or floral extracts of
exquisite limpidity. Standing on the glass shelf in the white glow of
the mirror, these flasks, flashing as if on fire, seemed to be suspended
in the air.

To give his premises the appearance of a cafe, Monsieur Lebigre had
placed two small tables of bronzed iron and four chairs against the
wall, in front of the counter. A chandelier with five lights and
frosted globes hung down from the ceiling. On the left was a round gilt
timepiece, above a _tourniquet_[*] fixed to the wall. Then at the far
end came the private "cabinet," a corner of the shop shut off by a
partition glazed with frosted glass of a small square pattern. In the
daytime this little room received a dim light from a window that looked
on to the Rue Pirouette; and in the evening, a gas jet burnt over the
two tables painted to resemble marble. It was there that Gavard and
his political friends met each evening after dinner. They looked upon
themselves as being quite at home there, and had prevailed on the
landlord to reserve the place for them. When Monsieur Lebigre had closed
the door of the glazed partition, they knew themselves to be so safely
screened from intrusion that they spoke quite unreservedly of the great
"sweep out" which they were fond of discussing. No unprivileged customer
would have dared to enter.

[*] This is a kind of dial turning on a pivot, and usually
enclosed in a brass frame, from which radiate a few small
handles or spokes. Round the face of the dial--usually of
paper--are various numerals, and between the face and its
glass covering is a small marble or wooden ball. The
appliance is used in lieu of dice or coins when two or more
customers are "tossing" for drinks. Each in turn sends the
dial spinning round, and wins or loses according to the
numeral against which the ball rests when the dial stops. As
I can find no English name for the appliance, I have thought
it best to describe it.--Translator.

On the first day that Gavard took Florent off he gave him some
particulars of Monsieur Lebigre. He was a good fellow, he said, who
sometimes came to drink his coffee with them; and, as he had said one
day that he had fought in '48, no one felt the least constraint in his
presence. He spoke but little, and seemed rather thick-headed. As the
gentlemen passed him on their way to the private room they grasped
his hand in silence across the glasses and bottles. By his side on
the crimson leather seat behind the counter there was generally a fair
little woman, whom he had engaged as counter assistant in addition
to the white-aproned waiter who attended to the tables and the
billiard-room. The young woman's name was Rose, and she seemed a very
gentle and submissive being. Gavard, with a wink of his eye, told
Florent that he fancied Lebigre had a weakness for her. It was she, by
the way, who waited upon the friends in the private room, coming and
going, with her happy, humble air, amidst the stormiest political
discussions.

Upon the day on which the poultry dealer took Florent to Lebigre's to
present him to his friends, the only person whom the pair found in the
little room when they entered it was a man of some fifty years of age,
of a mild and thoughtful appearance. He wore a rather shabby-looking hat
and a long chestnut-coloured overcoat, and sat, with his chin resting
on the ivory knob of a thick cane, in front of a glass mug full of beer.
His mouth was so completely concealed by a vigorous growth of beard that
his face had a dumb, lipless appearance.

"How are you, Robine?" exclaimed Gavard.

Robine silently thrust out his hand, without making any reply, though
his eyes softened into a slight smile of welcome.



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