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A tremendous hubbub
proceeded from the sanctum, and the panes of frosted glass vibrated
like drum-skins. Sometimes the uproar became so great that Rose, while
languidly serving some blouse-wearing customer in the shop, would turn
her head uneasily.

"Why, they're surely fighting together in there," the customer would
say, as he put his glass down on the zinc-covered counter, and wiped his
mouth with the back of his hand.

"Oh, there's no fear of that," Monsieur Lebigre tranquilly replied.
"It's only some gentlemen talking together."

Monsieur Lebigre, indeed, although very strict with his other customers,
allowed the politicians to shout as loudly as they pleased, and never
made the least remark on the subject. He would sit for hours together on
the bench behind the counter, with his big head lolling drowsily against
the mirror, whilst he watched Rose uncorking the bottles and giving a
wipe here and there with her duster. And in spite of the somniferous
effects of the wine fumes and the warm streaming gaslight, he would keep
his ears open to the sounds proceeding from the little room. At times,
when the voices grew noisier than usual, he got up from his seat and
went to lean against the partition; and occasionally he even pushed the
door open, and went inside and sat down there for a few minutes, giving
Gavard a friendly slap on the thigh. And then he would nod approval
of everything that was said. The poultry dealer asserted that although
friend Lebigre hadn't the stuff of an orator in him, they might safely
reckon on him when the "shindy" came.

One morning, however, at the markets, when a tremendous row broke out
between Rose and one of the fish-wives, through the former accidentally
knocking over a basket of herrings, Florent heard Rose's employer spoken
of as a "dirty spy" in the pay of the police. And after he had succeeded
in restoring peace, all sorts of stories about Monsieur Lebigre were
poured into his ears. Yes, the wine seller was in the pay of the police,
the fish-wives said; all the neighbourhood knew it. Before Mademoiselle
Saget had begun to deal with him she had once met him entering the
Prefecture to make his report. It was asserted, too, that he was a
money-monger, a usurer, and lent petty sums by the day to costermongers,
and let out barrows to them, exacting a scandalous rate of interest in
return. Florent was greatly disturbed by all this, and felt it his
duty to repeat it that evening to his fellow politicians. The latter,
however, only shrugged their shoulders, and laughed at his uneasiness.

"Poor Florent!" Charvet exclaimed sarcastically; "he imagines the whole
police force is on his track, just because he happens to have been sent
to Cayenne!"

Gavard gave his word of honour that Lebigre was perfectly staunch and
true, while Logre, for his part, manifested extreme irritation. He fumed
and declared that it would be quite impossible for them to get on if
everyone was to be accused of being a police spy; for his own part, he
would rather stay at home, and have nothing more to do with politics.
Why, hadn't people even dared to say that he, Logre himself, who had
fought in '48 and '51, and had twice narrowly escaped transportation,
was a spy as well? As he shouted this out, he thrust his jaws forward,
and glared at the others as though he would have liked to ram the
conviction that he had nothing to do with the police down their throats.
At the sight of his furious glances his companions made gestures of
protestation. However, Lacaille, on hearing Monsieur Lebigre accused of
usury, silently lowered his head.

The incident was forgotten in the discussions which ensued. Since Logre
had suggested a conspiracy, Monsieur Lebigre had grasped the hands of
the frequenters of the little room with more vigor than ever. Their
custom, to tell the truth, was of but small value to him, for they never
ordered more than one "drink" apiece. They drained the last drops just
as they rose to leave, having been careful to allow a little to remain
in their glasses, even during their most heated arguments. In this wise
the one "shout" lasted throughout the evening. They shivered as they
turned out into the cold dampness of the night, and for a moment or two
remained standing on the footway with dazzled eyes and buzzing ears,
as though surprised by the dark silence of the street. Rose, meanwhile,
fastened the shutters behind them. Then, quite exhausted, at a loss for
another word they shook hands, separated, and went their different ways,
still mentally continuing the discussion of the evening, and regretting
that they could not ram their particular theories down each other's
throats. Robine walked away, with his bent back bobbing up and down, in
the direction of the Rue Rambuteau; whilst Charvet and Clemence went
off through the markets on their return to the Luxembourg quarter, their
heels sounding on the flag-stones in military fashion, whilst they still
discussed some question of politics or philosophy, walking along side by
side, but never arm-in-arm.

The conspiracy ripened very slowly. At the commencement of the summer
the plotters had got no further than agreeing that it was necessary a
stroke should be attempted. Florent, who had at first looked upon
the whole business with a kind of distrust, had now, however, come to
believe in the possibility of a revolutionary movement. He took up the
matter seriously; making notes, and preparing plans in writing, while
the others still did nothing but talk. For his part, he began to
concentrate his whole life in the one persistent idea which made his
brain throb night after night; and this to such a degree that he at last
took his brother Quenu with him to Monsieur Lebigre's, as though such a
course were quite natural. Certainly he had no thought of doing anything
improper. He still looked upon Quenu as in some degree his pupil, and
may even have considered it his duty to start him on the proper path.
Quenu was an absolute novice in politics, but after spending five or six
evenings in the little room he found himself quite in accord with the
others. When Lisa was not present he manifested much docility, a sort of
respect for his brother's opinions. But the greatest charm of the affair
for him was really the mild dissipation of leaving his shop and shutting
himself up in the little room where the others shouted so loudly, and
where Clemence's presence, in his opinion, gave a tinge of rakishness
and romance to the proceedings. He now made all haste with his
chitterlings in order that he might get away as early as possible,
anxious to lose not a single word of the discussions, which seemed to
him to be very brilliant, though he was not always able to follow them.
The beautiful Lisa did not fail to notice his hurry to be gone, but as
yet she refrained from saying anything. When Florent took him off, she
simply went to the door-step, and watched them enter Monsieur Lebigre's,
her face paling somewhat, and a severe expression coming into her eyes.

One evening, as Mademoiselle Saget was peering out of her garret
casement, she recognised Quenu's shadow on the frosted glass of the
"cabinet" window facing the Rue Pirouette. She had found her casement an
excellent post of observation, as it overlooked that milky transparency,
on which the gaslight threw silhouettes of the politicians, with noses
suddenly appearing and disappearing, gaping jaws abruptly springing into
sight and then vanishing, and huge arms, apparently destitute of bodies,
waving hither and thither. This extraordinary jumble of detached
limbs, these silent but frantic profiles, bore witness to the heated
discussions that went on in the little room, and kept the old maid
peering from behind her muslin curtains until the transparency turned
black. She shrewdly suspected some "bit of trickery," as she phrased it.
By continual watching she had come to recognise the different shadows
by their hands and hair and clothes. As she gazed upon the chaos of
clenched fists, angry heads, and swaying shoulders, which seemed to
have become detached from their trunks and to roll about one atop of the
other, she would exclaim unhesitatingly, "Ah, there's that big booby of
a cousin; there's that miserly old Gavard; and there's the hunchback;
and there's that maypole of a Clemence!" Then, when the action of the
shadow-play became more pronounced, and they all seemed to have
lost control over themselves, she felt an irresistible impulse to go
downstairs to try to find out what was happening. Thus she now made a
point of buying her black-currant syrup at nights, pretending that she
felt out-of-sorts in the morning, and was obliged to take a sip as soon
as ever she was out of bed. On the evening when she noticed Quenu's
massive head shadowed on the transparency in close proximity to
Charvet's fist, she made her appearance at Monsieur Lebigre's in a
breathless condition. To gain more time, she made Rose rinse out her
little bottle for her; however, she was about to return to her room when
she heard the pork butcher exclaim with a sort of childish candour:

"No, indeed, we'll stand for it no longer! We'll make a clean sweep of
all those humbugging Deputies and Ministers! Yes, we'll send the whole
lot packing."

Eight o'clock had scarcely struck on the following morning when
Mademoiselle Saget was already at the pork shop. She found Madame
Lecoeur and La Sarriette there, dipping their noses into the
heating-pan, and buying hot sausages for breakfast. As the old maid had
managed to draw them into her quarrel with La Normande with respect to
the ten-sou dab, they had at once made friends again with Lisa, and they
now had nothing but contempt for the handsome fish-girl, and assailed
her and her sister as good-for-nothing hussies, whose only aim was
to fleece men of their money. This opinion had been inspired by the
assertions of Mademoiselle Saget, who had declared to Madame Lecoeur
that Florent had induced one of the two girls to coquette with Gavard,
and that the four of them had indulged in the wildest dissipation at
Barratte's--of course, at the poultry dealer's expense.



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