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Zola's novels, "La
Joie de Vivre," and instead of inheriting the egotism of her parents,
develops a passionate love and devotion for others. In a like way Claude
Lantier, Florent's artist friend and son of Gervaise of the "Assommoir,"
figures more particularly in "L'Oeuvre," which tells how his painful
struggle for fame resulted in madness and suicide. With reference to the
beautiful Norman and the other fishwives and gossips scattered through
the present volume, and those genuine types of Parisian _gaminerie_,
Muche, Marjolin, and Cadine, I may mention that I have frequently
chastened their language in deference to English susceptibilities,
so that the story, whilst retaining every essential feature, contains
nothing to which exception can reasonably be taken.

E. A. V.





THE FAT AND THE THIN



CHAPTER I

Amidst the deep silence and solitude prevailing in the avenue several
market gardeners' carts were climbing the slope which led towards Paris,
and the fronts of the houses, asleep behind the dim lines of elms on
either side of the road, echoed back the rhythmical jolting of the
wheels. At the Neuilly bridge a cart full of cabbages and another full
of peas had joined the eight waggons of carrots and turnips coming
down from Nanterre; and the horses, left to themselves, had continued
plodding along with lowered heads, at a regular though lazy pace, which
the ascent of the slope now slackened. The sleeping waggoners, wrapped
in woollen cloaks, striped black and grey, and grasping the reins
slackly in their closed hands, were stretched at full length on their
stomachs atop of the piles of vegetables. Every now and then, a gas
lamp, following some patch of gloom, would light up the hobnails of a
boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse, or the peak of a cap peering out
of the huge florescence of vegetables--red bouquets of carrots, white
bouquets of turnips, and the overflowing greenery of peas and cabbages.

And all along the road, and along the neighbouring roads, in front and
behind, the distant rumbling of vehicles told of the presence of similar
contingents of the great caravan which was travelling onward through the
gloom and deep slumber of that matutinal hour, lulling the dark city to
continued repose with its echoes of passing food.

Madame Francois's horse, Balthazar, an animal that was far too fat,
led the van. He was plodding on, half asleep and wagging his ears, when
suddenly, on reaching the Rue de Longchamp, he quivered with fear and
came to a dead stop. The horses behind, thus unexpectedly checked, ran
their heads against the backs of the carts in front of them, and the
procession halted amidst a clattering of bolts and chains and the oaths
of the awakened waggoners. Madame Francois, who sat in front of her
vehicle, with her back to a board which kept her vegetables in position,
looked down; but, in the dim light thrown to the left by a small square
lantern, which illuminated little beyond one of Balthazar's sheeny
flanks, she could distinguish nothing.

"Come, old woman, let's get on!" cried one of the men, who had raised
himself to a kneeling position amongst his turnips; "it's only some
drunken sot."

Madame Francois, however, had bent forward and on her right hand had
caught sight of a black mass, lying almost under the horse's hoofs, and
blocking the road.

"You wouldn't have us drive over a man, would you?" said she, jumping to
the ground.

It was indeed a man lying at full length upon the road, with his arms
stretched out and his face in the dust. He seemed to be remarkably tall,
but as withered as a dry branch, and the wonder was that Balthazar
had not broken him in half with a blow from his hoof. Madame Francois
thought that he was dead; but on stooping and taking hold of one of his
hands, she found that it was quite warm.

"Poor fellow!" she murmured softly.

The waggoners, however, were getting impatient.

"Hurry up, there!" said the man kneeling amongst the turnips, in a
hoarse voice. "He's drunk till he can hold no more, the hog! Shove him
into the gutter."

Meantime, the man on the road had opened his eyes. He looked at Madame
Francois with a startled air, but did not move. She herself now thought
that he must indeed be drunk.

"You mustn't stop here," she said to him, "or you'll get run over and
killed. Where were you going?"

"I don't know," replied the man in a faint voice.

Then, with an effort and an anxious expression, he added: "I was going
to Paris; I fell down, and don't remember any more."

Madame Francois could now see him more distinctly, and he was truly a
pitiable object, with his ragged black coat and trousers, through the
rents in which you could espy his scraggy limbs. Underneath a black
cloth cap, which was drawn low over his brows, as though he were afraid
of being recognised, could be seen two large brown eyes, gleaming with
peculiar softness in his otherwise stern and harassed countenance. It
seemed to Madame Francois that he was in far too famished a condition to
have got drunk.

"And what part of Paris were you going to?" she continued.

The man did not reply immediately. This questioning seemed to distress
him. He appeared to be thinking the matter over, but at last said
hesitatingly, "Over yonder, towards the markets."

He had now, with great difficulty, got to his feet again, and seemed
anxious to resume his journey. But Madame Francois noticed that he
tottered, and clung for support to one of the shafts of her waggon.

"Are you tired?" she asked him.

"Yes, very tired," he replied.

Then she suddenly assumed a grumpy tone, as though displeased, and,
giving him a push, exclaimed: "Look sharp, then, and climb into my cart.
You've made us lose a lot of time. I'm going to the markets, and I'll
turn you out there with my vegetables."

Then, as the man seemed inclined to refuse her offer, she pushed him up
with her stout arms, and bundled him down upon the turnips and carrots.

"Come, now, don't give us any more trouble," she cried angrily. "You are
quite enough to provoke one, my good fellow. Don't I tell you that
I'm going to the markets? Sleep away up there. I'll wake you when we
arrive."

She herself then clambered into the cart again, and settled herself with
her back against the board, grasping the reins of Balthazar, who started
off drowsily, swaying his ears once more. The other waggons followed,
and the procession resumed its lazy march through the darkness, whilst
the rhythmical jolting of the wheels again awoke the echoes of the
sleepy house fronts, and the waggoners, wrapped in their cloaks, dozed
off afresh. The one who had called to Madame Francois growled out as he
lay down: "As if we'd nothing better to do than pick up every drunken
sot we come across! You're a scorcher, old woman!"

The waggons rumbled on, and the horses picked their own way, with
drooping heads. The stranger whom Madame Francois had befriended was
lying on his stomach, with his long legs lost amongst the turnips which
filled the back part of the cart, whilst his face was buried amidst the
spreading piles of carrot bunches. With weary, extended arms he clutched
hold of his vegetable couch in fear of being thrown to the ground by one
of the waggon's jolts, and his eyes were fixed on the two long lines of
gas lamps which stretched away in front of him till they mingled with a
swarm of other lights in the distance atop of the slope. Far away on the
horizon floated a spreading, whitish vapour, showing where Paris slept
amidst the luminous haze of all those flamelets.

"I come from Nanterre, and my name's Madame Francois," said the market
gardener presently. "Since my poor man died I go to the markets every
morning myself. It's a hard life, as you may guess. And who are you?"

"My name's Florent, I come from a distance," replied the stranger, with
embarrassment. "Please excuse me, but I'm really so tired that it is
painful to me to talk."

He was evidently unwilling to say anything more, and so Madame Francois
relapsed into silence, and allowed the reins to fall loosely on the
back of Balthazar, who went his way like an animal acquainted with every
stone of the road.

Meantime, with his eyes still fixed upon the far-spreading glare of
Paris, Florent was pondering over the story which he had refused to
communicate to Madame Francois. After making his escape from Cayenne,
whither he had been transported for his participation in the resistance
to Louis Napoleon's Coup d'Etat, he had wandered about Dutch Guiana
for a couple of years, burning to return to France, yet dreading the
Imperial police. At last, however, he once more saw before him the
beloved and mighty city which he had so keenly regretted and so ardently
longed for. He would hide himself there, he told himself, and again lead
the quiet, peaceable life that he had lived years ago. The police would
never be any the wiser; and everyone would imagine, indeed, that he
had died over yonder, across the sea. Then he thought of his arrival at
Havre, where he had landed with only some fifteen francs tied up in a
corner of his handkerchief. He had been able to pay for a seat in
the coach as far as Rouen, but from that point he had been forced to
continue his journey on foot, as he had scarcely thirty sous left of his
little store. At Vernon his last copper had gone in bread. After that he
had no clear recollection of anything. He fancied that he could remember
having slept for several hours in a ditch, and having shown the papers
with which he had provided himself to a gendarme; however, he had only a
very confused idea of what had happened. He had left Vernon without any
breakfast, seized every now and then with hopeless despair and raging
pangs which had driven him to munch the leaves of the hedges as he
tramped along. A prey to cramp and fright, his body bent, his sight
dimmed, and his feet sore, he had continued his weary march, ever drawn
onwards in a semi-unconscious state by a vision of Paris, which, far,
far away, beyond the horizon, seemed to be summoning him and waiting for
him.

When he at length reached Courbevoie, the night was very dark.



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