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Paris,
looking like a patch of star-sprent sky that had fallen upon the black
earth, seemed to him to wear a forbidding aspect, as though angry at his
return. Then he felt very faint, and his legs almost gave way beneath
him as he descended the hill. As he crossed the Neuilly bridge he
sustained himself by clinging to the parapet, and bent over and looked
at the Seine rolling inky waves between its dense, massy banks. A red
lamp on the water seemed to be watching him with a sanguineous eye.
And then he had to climb the hill if he would reach Paris on its summit
yonder. The hundreds of leagues which he had already travelled were
as nothing to it. That bit of a road filled him with despair. He would
never be able, he thought, to reach yonder light crowned summit. The
spacious avenue lay before him with its silence and its darkness, its
lines of tall trees and low houses, its broad grey footwalks, speckled
with the shadows of overhanging branches, and parted occasionally by the
gloomy gaps of side streets. The squat yellow flames of the gas lamps,
standing erect at regular intervals, alone imparted a little life to the
lonely wilderness. And Florent seemed to make no progress; the avenue
appeared to grow ever longer and longer, to be carrying Paris away into
the far depths of the night. At last he fancied that the gas lamps, with
their single eyes, were running off on either hand, whisking the road
away with them; and then, overcome by vertigo, he stumbled and fell on
the roadway like a log.

Now he was lying at ease on his couch of greenery, which seemed to him
soft as a feather bed. He had slightly raised his head so as to keep his
eyes on the luminous haze which was spreading above the dark roofs which
he could divine on the horizon. He was nearing his goal, carried along
towards it, with nothing to do but to yield to the leisurely jolts of
the waggon; and, free from all further fatigue, he now only suffered
from hunger. Hunger, indeed, had once more awoke within him with
frightful and wellnigh intolerable pangs. His limbs seemed to have
fallen asleep; he was only conscious of the existence of his stomach,
horribly cramped and twisted as by a red-hot iron. The fresh odour of
the vegetables, amongst which he was lying, affected him so keenly that
he almost fainted away. He strained himself against that piled-up
mass of food with all his remaining strength, in order to compress his
stomach and silence its groans. And the nine other waggons behind him,
with their mountains of cabbages and peas, their piles of artichokes,
lettuces, celery, and leeks, seemed to him to be slowly overtaking him,
as though to bury him whilst he was thus tortured by hunger beneath
an avalanche of food. Presently the procession halted, and there was a
sound of deep voices. They had reached the barriers, and the municipal
customs officers were examining the waggons. A moment later Florent
entered Paris, in a swoon, lying atop of the carrots, with clenched
teeth.

"Hallow! You up there!" Madame Francois called out sharply.

And as the stranger made no attempt to move, she clambered up and shook
him. Florent rose to a sitting posture. He had slept and no longer felt
the pangs of hunger, but was dizzy and confused.

"You'll help me to unload, won't you?" Madame Francois said to him, as
she made him get down.

He helped her. A stout man with a felt hat on his head and a badge in
the top buttonhole of his coat was striking the ground with a stick and
grumbling loudly:

"Come, come, now, make haste! You must get on faster than that! Bring
the waggon a little more forward. How many yards' standing have you?
Four, isn't it?"

Then he gave a ticket to Madame Francois, who took some coppers out of a
little canvas bag and handed them to him; whereupon he went off to vent
his impatience and tap the ground with his stick a little further away.
Madame Francois took hold of Balthazar's bridle and backed him so as to
bring the wheels of the waggon close to the footway. Then, having marked
out her four yards with some wisps of straw, after removing the back of
the cart, she asked Florent to hand her the vegetables bunch by bunch.
She arranged them sort by sort on her standing, setting them out
artistically, the "tops" forming a band of greenery around each pile;
and it was with remarkable rapidity that she completed her show, which,
in the gloom of early morning, looked like some piece of symmetrically
coloured tapestry. When Florent had handed her a huge bunch of parsley,
which he had found at the bottom of the cart, she asked him for still
another service.

"It would be very kind of you," said she, "if you would look after my
goods while I put the horse and cart up. I'm only going a couple of
yards, to the Golden Compasses, in the Rue Montorgueil."

Florent told her that she might make herself easy. He preferred to
remain still, for his hunger had revived since he had begun to move
about. He sat down and leaned against a heap of cabbages beside Madame
Francois's stock. He was all right there, he told himself, and would
not go further afield, but wait. His head felt empty, and he had no very
clear notion as to where he was. At the beginning of September it
is quite dark in the early morning. Around him lighted lanterns were
flitting or standing stationary in the depths of the gloom. He was
sitting on one side of a broad street which he did not recognise; it
stretched far away into the blackness of the night. He could make
out nothing plainly, excepting the stock of which he had been left in
charge. All around him along the market footways rose similar piles of
goods. The middle of the roadway was blocked by huge grey tumbrels,
and from one end of the street to the other a sound of heavy breathing
passed, betokening the presence of horses which the eye could not
distinguish.

Shouts and calls, the noise of falling wood, or of iron chains slipping
to the ground, the heavy thud of loads of vegetables discharged from the
waggons, and the grating of wheels as the carts were backed against the
footways, filled the yet sonorous awakening, whose near approach could
be felt and heard in the throbbing gloom. Glancing over the pile of
cabbages behind him. Florent caught sight of a man wrapped like a parcel
in his cloak, and snoring away with his head upon some baskets of plums.
Nearer to him, on his left, he could distinguish a lad, some ten years
old, slumbering between two heaps of endive, with an angelic smile on
his face. And as yet there seemed to be nothing on that pavement that
was really awake except the lanterns waving from invisible arms, and
flitting and skipping over the sleep of the vegetables and human beings
spread out there in heaps pending the dawn. However, what surprised
Florent was the sight of some huge pavilions on either side of the
street, pavilions with lofty roofs that seemed to expand and soar out of
sight amidst a swarm of gleams. In his weakened state of mind he fancied
he beheld a series of enormous, symmetrically built palaces, light and
airy as crystal, whose fronts sparkled with countless streaks of light
filtering through endless Venetian shutters. Gleaming between the
slender pillar shafts these narrow golden bars seemed like ladders of
light mounting to the gloomy line of the lower roofs, and then soaring
aloft till they reached the jumble of higher ones, thus describing the
open framework of immense square halls, where in the yellow flare of the
gas lights a multitude of vague, grey, slumbering things was gathered
together.

At last Florent turned his head to look about him, distressed at not
knowing where he was, and filled with vague uneasiness by the sight of
that huge and seemingly fragile vision. And now, as he raised his eyes,
he caught sight of the luminous dial and the grey massive pile of Saint
Eustache's Church. At this he was much astonished. He was close to Saint
Eustache, yet all was novel to him.

However, Madame Francois had come back again, and was engaged in a
heated discussion with a man who carried a sack over his shoulder and
offered to buy her carrots for a sou a bunch.

"Really, now, you are unreasonable, Lacaille!" said she. "You know quite
well that you will sell them again to the Parisians at four and five
sous the bunch. Don't tell me that you won't! You may have them for two
sous the bunch, if you like."

Then, as the man went off, she continued: "Upon my word, I believe some
people think that things grow of their own accord! Let him go and find
carrots at a sou the bunch elsewhere, tipsy scoundrel that he is! He'll
come back again presently, you'll see."

These last remarks were addressed to Florent. And, seating herself by
his side, Madame Francois resumed: "If you've been a long time away from
Paris, you perhaps don't know the new markets. They haven't been built
for more than five years at the most. That pavilion you see there beside
us is the flower and fruit market. The fish and poultry markets are
farther away, and over there behind us come the vegetables and the
butter and cheese. There are six pavilions on this side, and on the
other side, across the road, there are four more, with the meat and
the tripe stalls. It's an enormous place, but it's horribly cold in the
winter. They talk about pulling down the houses near the corn market to
make room for two more pavilions. But perhaps you know all this?"

"No, indeed," replied Florent; "I've been abroad. And what's the name of
that big street in front of us?"

"Oh, that's a new street. It's called the Rue du Pont Neuf. It
leads from the Seine through here to the Rue Montmartre and the Rue
Montorgueil. You would soon have recognized where you were if it had
been daylight."

Madame Francois paused and rose, for she saw a woman heading down to
examine her turnips. "Ah, is that you, Mother Chantemesse?" she said in
a friendly way.

Florent meanwhile glanced towards the Rue Montorgueil. It was there
that a body of police officers had arrested him on the night of December
4.[*] He had been walking along the Boulevard Montmartre at about two
o'clock, quietly making his way through the crowd, and smiling at the
number of soldiers that the Elysee had sent into the streets to awe the
people, when the military suddenly began making a clean sweep of the
thoroughfare, shooting folks down at close range during a quarter of an
hour.



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