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These odours were as
yet vague, tempered by the moisture which clung to the ground. But in
the blazing June afternoons a reeking stench arose, and the atmosphere
became heavy with a pestilential haze. The upper windows were then
opened, and huge blinds of grey canvas were drawn beneath the burning
sky. Nevertheless, a fiery rain seemed to be pouring down, heating the
market as though it were a big stove, and there was not a breath of air
to waft away the noxious emanations from the fish. A visible steam went
up from the stalls.

The masses of food amongst which Florent lived now began to cause him
the greatest discomfort. The disgust with which the pork shop had filled
him came back in a still more intolerable fashion. He almost sickened
as he passed these masses of fish, which, despite all the water lavished
upon them, turned bad under a sudden whiff of hot air. Even when he shut
himself up in his office his discomfort continued, for the abominable
odour forced its way through the chinks in the woodwork of the window
and door. When the sky was grey and leaden, the little room remained
quite dark; and then the day was like a long twilight in the depths of
some fetid march. He was often attacked by fits of nervous excitement,
and felt a craving desire to walk; and he would then descend into the
cellars by the broad staircase opening in the middle of the pavilion. In
the pent-up air down below, in the dim light of the occasional gas jets,
he once more found the refreshing coolness diffused by pure cold water.
He would stand in front of the big tank where the reserve stock of live
fish was kept, and listen to the ceaseless murmur of the four streamlets
of water falling from the four corners of the central urn, and then
spreading into a broad stream and gliding beneath the locked gratings of
the basins with a gentle and continuous flow. This subterranean spring,
this stream murmuring in the gloom, had a tranquillising effect upon
him. Of an evening, too, he delighted in the fine sunsets which threw
the delicate lacework of the market buildings blackly against the red
glow of the heavens. The dancing dust of the last sun rays streamed
through every opening, through every chink of the Venetian shutters,
and the whole was like some luminous transparency on which the slender
shafts of the columns, the elegant curves of the girders, and the
geometrical tracery of the roofs were minutely outlined. Florent
feasted his eyes on this mighty diagram washed in with Indian ink on
phosphorescent vellum, and his mind reverted to his old fancy of a
colossal machine with wheels and levers and beams espied in the crimson
glow of the fires blazing beneath its boilers. At each consecutive hour
of the day the changing play of the light--from the bluish haze of early
morning and the black shadows of noon to the flaring of the sinking sun
and the paling of its fires in the ashy grey of the twilight--revealed
the markets under a new aspect; but on the flaming evenings, when the
foul smells arose and forced their way across the broad yellow beams
like hot puffs of steam, Florent again experienced discomfort, and
his dream changed, and he imagined himself in some gigantic knacker's
boiling-house where the fat of a whole people was being melted down.

The coarseness of the market people, whose words and gestures seemed to
be infected with the evil smell of the place, also made him suffer. He
was very tolerant, and showed no mock modesty; still, these impudent
women often embarrassed him. Madame Francois, whom he had again met,
was the only one with whom he felt at ease. She showed such pleasure
on learning he had found a berth and was quite comfortable and out of
worry, as she put it, that he was quite touched. The laughter of Lisa,
the handsome Norman, and the others disquieted him; but of Madame
Francois he would willingly have made a confidante. She never laughed
mockingly at him; when she did laugh, it was like a woman rejoicing at
another's happiness. She was a brave, plucky creature, too; hers was a
hard business in winter, during the frosts, and the rainy weather was
still more trying. On some mornings Florent saw her arrive in a pouring
deluge which had been slowly, coldly falling ever since the previous
night. Between Nanterre and Paris the wheels of her cart had sunk up to
the axles in mud, and Balthazar was caked with mire to his belly. His
mistress would pity him and sympathise with him as she wiped him down
with some old aprons.

"The poor creatures are very sensitive," said she; "a mere nothing gives
them a cold. Ah, my poor old Balthazar! I really thought that we had
tumbled into the Seine as we crossed the Neuilly bridge, the rain came
down in such a deluge!"

While Balthazar was housed in the inn stable his mistress remained in
the pouring rain to sell her vegetables. The footway was transformed
into a lake of liquid mud. The cabbages, carrots, and turnips were
pelted by the grey water, quite drowned by the muddy torrent that rushed
along the pavement. There was no longer any of that glorious greenery
so apparent on bright mornings. The market gardeners, cowering in their
heavy cloaks beneath the downpour, swore at the municipality which,
after due inquiry, had declared that rain was in no way injurious to
vegetables, and that there was accordingly no necessity to erect any

Those rainy mornings greatly worried Florent, who thought about Madame
Francois. He always managed to slip away and get a word with her. But
he never found her at all low-spirited. She shook herself like a poodle,
saying that she was quite used to such weather, and was not made of
sugar, to melt away beneath a few drops of rain. However, he made her
seek refuge for a few minutes in one of the covered ways, and frequently
even took her to Monsieur Lebigre's, where they had some hot wine
together. While she with her peaceful face beamed on him in all
friendliness, he felt quite delighted with the healthy odour of the
fields which she brought into the midst of the foul market atmosphere.
She exhaled a scent of earth, hay, fresh air, and open skies.

"You must come to Nanterre, my lad," she said to him, "and look at my
kitchen garden. I have put borders of thyme everywhere. How bad your
villainous Paris does smell!"

Then she went off, dripping. Florent, on his side, felt quite
re-invigorated when he parted from her. He tried, too the effect of work
upon the nervous depression from which he suffered. He was a man of a
very methodical temperament, and sometimes carried out his plans for the
allotment of his time with a strictness that bordered on mania. He shut
himself up two evenings a week in order to write an exhaustive work on
Cayenne. His modest bedroom was excellently adapted, he thought, to
calm his mind and incline him to work. He lighted his fire, saw that
the pomegranate at the foot of the bed was looking all right, and then
seated himself at the little table, and remained working till midnight.
He had pushed the missal and Dream-book back in the drawer, which was
now filling with notes, memoranda, manuscripts of all kinds. The work
on Cayenne made but slow progress, however, as it was constantly being
interrupted by other projects, plans for enormous undertakings which
he sketched out in a few words. He successively drafted an outline of
a complete reform of the administrative system of the markets, a scheme
for transforming the city dues, levied on produce as it entered Paris,
into taxes levied upon the sales, a new system of victualling the poorer
neighbourhoods, and, lastly, a somewhat vague socialist enactment for
the storing in common warehouses of all the provisions brought to the
markets, and the ensuring of a minimum daily supply to each household in
Paris. As he sat there, with his head bent over his table, and his mind
absorbed in thoughts of all these weighty matters, his gloomy figure
cast a great black shadow on the soft peacefulness of the garret.
Sometimes a chaffinch which he had picked up one snowy day in the market
would mistake the lamplight for the day, and break the silence, which
only the scratching of Florent's pen on his paper disturbed, by a cry.

Florent was fated to revert to politics. He had suffered too much
through them not to make them the dearest occupation of his life. Under
other conditions he might have become a good provincial schoolmaster,
happy in the peaceful life of some little town. But he had been treated
as though he were a wolf, and felt as though he had been marked out
by exile for some great combative task. His nervous discomfort was the
outcome of his long reveries at Cayenne, the brooding bitterness he had
felt at his unmerited sufferings, and the vows he had secretly sworn to
avenge humanity and justice--the former scourged with a whip, and the
latter trodden under foot. Those colossal markets and their teeming
odoriferous masses of food had hastened the crisis. To Florent they
appeared symbolical of some glutted, digesting beast, of Paris,
wallowing in its fat and silently upholding the Empire. He seemed to be
encircled by swelling forms and sleek, fat faces, which ever and
ever protested against his own martyrlike scragginess and sallow,
discontented visage. To him the markets were like the stomach of the
shopkeeping classes, the stomach of all the folks of average rectitude
puffing itself out, rejoicing, glistening in the sunshine, and declaring
that everything was for the best, since peaceable people had never
before grown so beautifully fat. As these thoughts passed through his
mind Florent clenched his fists, and felt ready for a struggle, more
irritated now by the thought of his exile than he had been when he first
returned to France. Hatred resumed entire possession of him. He often
let his pen drop and became absorbed in dreams. The dying fire cast a
bright glow upon his face; the lamp burned smokily, and the chaffinch
fell asleep again on one leg, with its head tucked under its wing.

Sometimes Auguste, on coming upstairs at eleven o'clock and seeing the
light shining under the door, would knock, before going to bed.

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