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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. Then he let his chin
drop on to the knob of his cane again, and looked at Florent over his
beer. Florent had made Gavard swear to keep his story a secret for fear
of some dangerous indiscretion; and he was not displeased to observe a
touch of distrust in the discreet demeanour of the gentleman with the
heavy beard. However, he was really mistaken in this, for Robine never
talked more than he did now. He was always the first to arrive, just
as the clock struck eight; and he always sat in the same corner, never
letting go his hold of his cane, and never taking off either his hat or
his overcoat. No one had ever seen him without his hat upon his head. He
remained there listening to the talk of the others till midnight, taking
four hours to empty his mug of beer, and gazing successively at the
different speakers as though he heard them with his eyes. When Florent
afterwards questioned Gavard about Robine, the poultry dealer spoke of
the latter as though he held him in high esteem. Robine, he asserted,
was an extremely clever and able man, and, though he was unable to say
exactly where he had given proof of his hostility to the established
order of things, he declared that he was one of the most dreaded of the
Government's opponents. He lived in the Rue Saint Denis, in rooms
to which no one as a rule could gain admission. The poultry dealer,
however, asserted that he himself had once been in them. The wax floors,
he said, were protected by strips of green linen; and there were covers
over the furniture, and an alabaster timepiece with columns. He had
caught a glimpse of the back of a lady, who was just disappearing
through one doorway as he was entering by another, and had taken her
to be Madame Robine. She appeared to be an old lady of very genteel
appearance, with her hair arranged in corkscrew curls; but of this he
could not be quite certain. No one knew why they had taken up their
abode amidst all the uproar of a business neighbourhood; for the husband
did nothing at all, spending his days no one knew how and living on no
one knew what, though he made his appearance every evening as though he
were tired but delighted with some excursion into the highest regions of
politics.

"Well, have you read the speech from the throne?" asked Gavard, taking
up a newspaper that was lying on the table.

Robine shrugged his shoulders. Just at that moment, however, the door
of the glazed partition clattered noisily, and a hunchback made his
appearance. Florent at once recognised the deformed crier of the fish
market, though his hands were now washed and he was neatly dressed, with
his neck encircled by a great red muffler, one end of which hung down
over his hump like the skirt of a Venetian cloak.

"Ah, here's Logre!" exclaimed the poultry dealer. "Now we shall hear
what he thinks about the speech from the throne."

Logre, however, was apparently furious. To begin with he almost broke
the pegs off in hanging up his hat and muffler. Then he threw himself
violently into a chair, and brought his fist down on the table, while
tossing away the newspaper.

"Do you think I read their fearful lies?" he cried.

Then he gave vent to the anger raging within him. "Did ever anyone
hear," he cried, "of masters making such fools of their people? For two
whole hours I've been waiting for my pay! There were ten of us in the
office kicking our heels there. Then at last Monsieur Manoury arrived
in a cab. Where he had come from I don't know, and don't care, but I'm
quite sure it wasn't any respectable place. Those salesmen are all a
parcel of thieves and libertines! And then, too, the hog actually gave
me all my money in small change!"

Robine expressed his sympathy with Logre by the slight movement of his
eyelids. But suddenly the hunchback bethought him of a victim upon whom
to pour out his wrath. "Rose! Rose!" he cried, stretching his head out
of the little room.

The young woman quickly responded to the call, trembling all over.

"Well," shouted Logre, "what do you stand staring at me like that for?
Much good that'll do! You saw me come in, didn't you? Why haven't you
brought me my glass of black coffee, then?"

Gavard ordered two similar glasses, and Rose made all haste to bring
what was required, while Logre glared sternly at the glasses and little
sugar trays as if studying them. When he had taken a drink he seemed to
grow somewhat calmer.

"But it's Charvet who must be getting bored," he said presently. "He is
waiting outside on the pavement for Clemence."

Charvet, however, now made his appearance, followed by Clemence. He was
a tall, scraggy young man, carefully shaved, with a skinny nose and
thin lips. He lived in the Rue Vavin, behind the Luxembourg, and called
himself a professor. In politics he was a disciple of Hebert.[*] He
wore his hair very long, and the collar and lapels of his threadbare
frock-coat were broadly turned back. Affecting the manner and speech of
a member of the National Convention, he would pour out such a flood of
bitter words and make such a haughty display of pedantic learning that
he generally crushed his adversaries. Gavard was afraid of him, though
he would not confess it; still, in Charvet's absence he would say that
he really went too far. Robine, for his part, expressed approval
of everything with his eyes. Logre sometimes opposed Charvet on the
question of salaries; but the other was really the autocrat of
the coterie, having the greatest fund of information and the most
overbearing manner. For more than ten years he and Clemence had lived
together as man and wife, in accordance with a previously arranged
contract, the terms of which were strictly observed by both parties to
it. Florent looked at the young woman with some little surprise, but at
last he recollected where he had previously seen her. This was at the
fish auction. She was, indeed, none other than the tall dark female
clerk whom he had observed writing with outstretched fingers, after the
manner of one who had been carefully instructed in the art of holding a
pen.

[*] Hebert, as the reader will remember, was the furious
demagogue with the foul tongue and poisoned pen who edited
the _Pere Duchesne_ at the time of the first French
Revolution. We had a revival of his politics and his journal
in Paris during the Commune of 1871.--Translator.

Rose made her appearance at the heels of the two newcomers. Without
saying a word she placed a mug of beer before Charvet and a tray before
Clemence, who in a leisurely way began to compound a glass of "grog,"
pouring some hot water over a slice of lemon, which she crushed with
her spoon, and glancing carefully at the decanter as she poured out
some rum, so as not to add more of it than a small liqueur glass could
contain.

Gavard now presented Florent to the company, but more especially to
Charvet. He introduced them to one another as professors, and very able
men, who would be sure to get on well together. But it was probable that
he had already been guilty of some indiscretion, for all the men at once
shook hands with a tight and somewhat masonic squeeze of each other's
fingers. Charvet, for his part, showed himself almost amiable; and
whether he and the others knew anything of Florent's antecedents, they
at all events indulged in no embarrassing allusions.

"Did Manoury pay you in small change?" Logre asked Clemence.

She answered affirmatively, and produced a roll of francs and another of
two-franc pieces, and unwrapped them. Charvet watched her, and his eyes
followed the rolls as she replaced them in her pocket, after counting
their contents and satisfying herself that they were correct.

"We have our accounts to settle," he said in a low voice.

"Yes, we'll settle up to-night," the young woman replied. "But we
are about even, I should think. I've breakfasted with you four times,
haven't I? But I lent you a hundred sous last week, you know."

Florent, surprised at hearing this, discreetly turned his head away.
Then Clemence slipped the last roll of silver into her pocket, drank a
little of her grog, and, leaning against the glazed partition, quietly
settled herself down to listen to the men talking politics. Gavard had
taken up the newspaper again, and, in tones which he strove to render
comic, was reading out some passages of the speech from the throne which
had been delivered that morning at the opening of the Chambers. Charvet
made fine sport of the official phraseology; there was not a single line
of it which he did not tear to pieces. One sentence afforded especial
amusement to them all. It was this: "We are confident, gentlemen,
that, leaning on your lights[*] and the conservative sentiments of the
country, we shall succeed in increasing the national prosperity day by
day."

[*] In the sense of illumination of mind. It has been
necessary to give a literal translation of this phrase to
enable the reader to realise the point of subsequent
witticisms in which Clemence and Gavard indulge.
--Translator.

Logre rose up and repeated this sentence, and by speaking through his
nose succeeded fairly well in mimicking the Emperor's drawling voice.

"It's lovely, that prosperity of his; why, everyone's dying of hunger!"
said Charvet.

"Trade is shocking," asserted Gavard.

"And what in the name of goodness is the meaning of anybody 'leaning on
lights'?" continued Clemence, who prided herself upon literary culture.

Robine himself even allowed a faint laugh to escape from the depths of
his beard. The discussion began to grow warm. The party fell foul of
the Corps Legislatif, and spoke of it with great severity.



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