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She's wearing those big drops of hers,
isn't she? It makes one feel ashamed to see a girl like that with
brilliants."

All complaisance, Augustine echoed her mistress's words.

When either of them was able to display a new ornament it was like
scoring a victory--the other one almost choked with spleen. Every day
they would scrutinise and count each other's customers, and manifest the
greatest annoyance if they thought that the "big thing over the way" was
doing the better business. Then they spied out what each had for lunch.
Each knew what the other ate, and even watched to see how she digested
it. In the afternoon, while the one sat amidst her cooked meats and the
other amidst her fish, they posed and gave themselves airs, as though
they were queens of beauty. It was then that the victory of the day was
decided. The beautiful Norman embroidered, selecting the most delicate
and difficult work, and this aroused Lisa's exasperation.

"Ah!" she said, speaking of her rival, "she had far better mend her
boy's stockings. He's running about quite barefooted. Just look at that
fine lady, with her red hands stinking of fish!"

For her part, Lisa usually knitted.

"She's still at that same sock," La Normande would say, as she watched
her. "She eats so much that she goes to sleep over her work. I pity her
poor husband if he's waiting for those socks to keep his feet warm!"

They would sit glowering at each other with this implacable hostility
until evening, taking note of every customer, and displaying such keen
eyesight that they detected the smallest details of each other's dress
and person when other women declared that they could see nothing at
such a distance. Mademoiselle Saget expressed the highest admiration for
Madame Quenu's wonderful sight when she one day detected a scratch on
the fish-girl's left cheek. With eyes like those, said the old maid,
one might even see through a door. However, the victory often remained
undecided when night fell; sometimes one or other of the rivals was
temporarily crushed, but she took her revenge on the morrow. Several
people of the neighbourhood actually laid wagers on these contests, some
backing the beautiful Lisa and others the beautiful Norman.

At last they ended by forbidding their children to speak to one another.
Pauline and Muche had formerly been good friends, notwithstanding the
girl's stiff petticoats and lady-like demeanour, and the lad's tattered
appearance, coarse language, and rough manners. They had at times played
together at horses on the broad footway in front of the fish market,
Pauline always being the horse and Muche the driver. One day, however,
when the boy came in all simplicity to seek his playmate, Lisa turned
him out of the house, declaring that he was a dirty little street arab.

"One can't tell what may happen with children who have been so
shockingly brought up," she observed.

"Yes, indeed; you are quite right," replied Mademoiselle Saget, who
happened to be present.

When Muche, who was barely seven years old, came in tears to his mother
to tell her of what had happened, La Normande broke out into a terrible
passion. At the first moment she felt a strong inclination to rush
over to the Quenu-Gradelles' and smash everything in their shop. But
eventually she contented herself with giving Muche a whipping.

"If ever I catch you going there again," she cried, boiling over with
anger, "you'll get it hot from me, I can tell you!"

Florent, however, was the real victim of the two women. It was he, in
truth, who had set them by the ears, and it was on his account that
they were fighting each other. Ever since he had appeared upon the scene
things had been going from bad to worse. He compromised and disturbed
and embittered all these people, who had previously lived in such sleek
peace and harmony. The beautiful Norman felt inclined to claw him when
he lingered too long with the Quenus, and it was chiefly from an impulse
of hostile rivalry that she desired to win him to herself. The beautiful
Lisa, on her side, maintained a cold judicial bearing, and although
extremely annoyed, forced herself to silence whenever she saw Florent
leaving the pork shop to go to the Rue Pirouette.

Still, there was now much less cordiality than formerly round the
Quenus' dinner-table in the evening. The clean, prim dining-room seemed
to have assumed an aspect of chilling severity. Florent divined a
reproach, a sort of condemnation in the bright oak, the polished lamp,
and the new matting. He scarcely dared to eat for fear of letting crumbs
fall on the floor or soiling his plate. There was a guileless simplicity
about him which prevented him from seeing how the land really lay.
He still praised Lisa's affectionate kindliness on all sides; and
outwardly, indeed, she did continue to treat him with all gentleness.

"It is very strange," she said to him one day with a smile, as though
she were joking; "although you don't eat at all badly now, you don't get
fatter. Your food doesn't seem to do you any good."

At this Quenu laughed aloud, and tapping his brother's stomach,
protested that the whole contents of the pork shop might pass through it
without depositing a layer of fat as thick as a two-sou piece. However,
Lisa's insistence on this particular subject was instinct with that same
suspicious dislike for fleshless men which Madame Mehudin manifested
more outspokenly; and behind it all there was likewise a veiled allusion
to the disorderly life which she imagined Florent was leading. She
never, however, spoke a word to him about La Normande. Quenu had
attempted a joke on the subject one evening, but Lisa had received it so
icily that the good man had not ventured to refer to the matter again.
They would remain seated at table for a few moments after dessert, and
Florent, who had noticed his sister-in-law's vexation if ever he went
off too soon, tried to find something to talk about. On these occasions
Lisa would be near him, and certainly he did not suffer in her presence
from that fishy smell which assailed him when he was in the company of
La Normande. The mistress of the pork shop, on the contrary, exhaled an
odour of fat and rich meats. Moreover, not a thrill of life stirred her
tight-fitting bodice; she was all massiveness and all sedateness.
Gavard once said to Florent in confidence that Madame Quenu was no doubt
handsome, but that for his part he did not admire such armour-plated
women.

Lisa avoided talking to Quenu of Florent. She habitually prided herself
on her patience, and considered, too, that it would not be proper to
cause any unpleasantness between the brothers, unless some peremptory
reason for her interference should arise. As she said, she could put up
with a good deal, but, of course, she must not be tried too far. She had
now reached the period of courteous tolerance, wearing an expressionless
face, affecting perfect indifference and strict politeness, and
carefully avoiding everything which might seem to hint that Florent was
boarding and lodging with them without their receiving the slightest
payment from him. Not, indeed, that she would have accepted any payment
from him, she was above all that; still he might, at any rate, she
thought, have lunched away from the house.

"We never seem to be alone now," she remarked to Quenu one day. "If
there is anything we want to say to one another we have to wait till we
go upstairs at night."

And then, one night when they were in bed, she said to him: "Your
brother earns a hundred and fifty francs a month, doesn't he? Well, it's
strange he can't put a trifle by to buy himself some more linen. I've
been obliged to give him three more of your old shirts."

"Oh, that doesn't matter," Quenu replied. "Florent's not hard to please;
and we must let him keep his money for himself."

"Oh, yes, of course," said Lisa, without pressing the matter further. "I
didn't mention it for that reason. Whether he spends his money well or
ill, it isn't our business."

In her own mind she felt quite sure that he wasted his salary at the
Mehudins'.

Only on one occasion did she break through her habitual calmness of
demeanour, the quiet reserve which was the result of both natural
temperament and preconceived design. The beautiful Norman had made
Florent a present of a magnificent salmon. Feeling very much embarrassed
with the fish, and not daring to refuse it, he brought it to Lisa.

"You can make a pasty of it," he said ingenuously.

Lisa looked at him sternly with whitening lips. Then, striving to
restrain her anger, she exclaimed: "Do you think that we are short of
food? Thank God, we've got quite enough to eat here! Take it back!"

"Well, at any rate, cook it for me," replied Florent, amazed by her
anger; "I'll eat it myself."

At this she burst out furiously.

"The house isn't an inn! Tell those who gave you the fish to cook it for
you! I won't have my pans tainted and infected! Take it back again! Do
you hear?"

If he had not gone away with it, she would certainly have seized it and
hurled it into the street. Florent took it to Monsieur Lebigre's, where
Rose was ordered to make a pasty of it; and one evening the pasty was
eaten in the little "cabinet," Gavard, who was present, "standing"
some oysters for the occasion. Florent now gradually came more and more
frequently to Monsieur Lebigre's, till at last he was constantly to be
met in the little private room. He there found an atmosphere of heated
excitement in which his political feverishness could pulsate freely.
At times, now, when he shut himself up in his garret to work, the quiet
simplicity of the little room irritated him, his theoretical search
for liberty proved quite insufficient, and it became necessary that he
should go downstairs, sally out, and seek satisfaction in the trenchant
axioms of Charvet and the wild outbursts of Logre. During the first few
evenings the clamour and chatter had made him feel ill at ease; he was
then quite conscious of their utter emptiness, but he felt a need of
drowning his thoughts, of goading himself on to some extreme resolution
which might calm his mental disquietude.



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