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From the effects
of this impudent story Madame Lecoeur had not yet recovered; she wore a
doleful appearance, and her eyes were quite yellow with spleen.

That morning, however, it was for Madame Quenu that the old maid had
a shock in store. She looked round the counter, and then in her most
gentle voice remarked:

"I saw Monsieur Quenu last night. They seem to enjoy themselves
immensely in that little room at Lebigre's, if one may judge from the
noise they make."

Lisa had turned her head towards the street, listening very attentively,
but apparently unwilling to show it. The old maid paused, hoping that
one of the others would question her; and then, in a lower tone, she
added: "They had a woman with them. Oh, I don't mean Monsieur Quenu, of
course! I didn't say that; I don't know--"

"It must be Clemence," interrupted La Sarriette; "a big scraggy creature
who gives herself all sorts of airs just because she went to boarding
school. She lives with a threadbare usher. I've seen them together;
they always look as though they were taking each other off to the police
station."

"Oh, yes; I know," replied the old maid, who, indeed, knew everything
about Charvet and Clemence, and whose only purpose was to alarm Lisa.

The mistress of the pork shop, however, never flinched. She seemed to be
absorbed in watching something of great interest in the market yonder.
Accordingly the old maid had recourse to stronger measures. "I think,"
said she, addressing herself to Madame Lecoeur, "that you ought to
advise your brother-in-law to be careful. Last night they were shouting
out the most shocking things in that little room. Men really seem to
lose their heads over politics. If anyone had heard them, it might have
been a very serious matter for them."

"Oh! Gavard will go his own way," sighed Madame Lecoeur. "It only wanted
this to fill my cup. I shall die of anxiety, I am sure, if he ever gets
arrested."

As she spoke, a gleam shot from her dim eyes. La Sarriette, however,
laughed and wagged her little face, bright with the freshness of the
morning air.

"You should hear what Jules says of those who speak against the Empire,"
she remarked. "They ought all to be thrown into the Seine, he told me;
for it seems there isn't a single respectable person amongst them."

"Oh! there's no harm done, of course, so long as only people like myself
hear their foolish talk," resumed Mademoiselle Saget. "I'd rather cut
my hand off, you know, than make mischief. Last night now, for instance,
Monsieur Quenu was saying----"

She again paused. Lisa had started slightly.

"Monsieur Quenu was saying that the Ministers and Deputies and all who
are in power ought to be shot."

At this Lisa turned sharply, her face quite white and her hands clenched
beneath her apron.

"Quenu said that?" she curtly asked.

"Yes, indeed, and several other similar things that I can't recollect
now. I heard him myself. But don't distress yourself like that, Madame
Quenu. You know very well that I sha'n't breathe a word. I'm quite old
enough to know what might harm a man if it came out. Oh, no; it will go
no further."

Lisa had recovered her equanimity. She took a pride in the happy
peacefulness of her home; she would not acknowledge that there had ever
been the slightest difference between herself and her husband. And so
now she shrugged her shoulders and said with a smile: "Oh, it's all a
pack of foolish nonsense."

When the three others were in the street together they agreed that
handsome Lisa had pulled a very doleful face; and they were unanimously
of opinion that the mysterious goings-on of the cousin, the Mehudins,
Gavard, and the Quenus would end in trouble. Madame Lecoeur inquired
what was done to the people who got arrested "for politics," but on this
point Mademoiselle Saget could not enlighten her; she only knew that
they were never seen again--no, never. And this induced La Sarriette to
suggest that perhaps they were thrown into the Seine, as Jules had said
they ought to be.

Lisa avoided all reference to the subject at breakfast and dinner that
day; and even in the evening, when Florent and Quenu went off together
to Monsieur Lebigre's, there was no unwonted severity in her glance. On
that particular evening, however, the question of framing a constitution
for the future came under discussion, and it was one o'clock in the
morning before the politicians could tear themselves away from the
little room. The shutters had already been fastened, and they were
obliged to leave by a small door, passing out one at a time with bent
backs. Quenu returned home with an uneasy conscience. He opened the
three or four doors on his way to bed as gently as possible, walking
on tip-toe and stretching out his hands as he passed through the
sitting-room, to avoid a collision with any of the furniture. The whole
house seemed to be asleep. When he reached the bedroom, he was annoyed
to find that Lisa had not extinguished the candle, which was burning
with a tall, mournful flame in the midst of the deep silence. As Quenu
took off his shoes, and put them down in a corner, the time-piece struck
half past one with such a clear, ringing sound that he turned in alarm,
almost frightened to move, and gazing with an expression of angry
reproach at the shining gilded standing there, with his finger
on a book. Lisa's head was buried in her pillow, and Quenu could only
see her back; but he divined that she was merely feigning sleep, and her
conduct in turning her back upon him was so instinct with reproach that
he felt sorely ill at ease. At last he slipped beneath the bed-clothes,
blew out the candle, and lay perfectly still. He could have sworn that
his wife was awake, though she did not speak to him; and presently he
fell asleep, feeling intensely miserable, and lacking the courage to say
good night.

He slept till late, and when he awoke he found himself sprawling in the
middle of the bed with the eider-down quilt up to his chin, whilst Lisa
sat in front of the secretaire, arranging some papers. His slumber
had been so heavy that he had not heard her rise. However, he now took
courage, and spoke to her from the depths of the alcove: "Why didn't you
wake me? What are you doing there?"

"I'm sorting the papers in these drawers," she replied in her usual tone
of voice.

Quenu felt relieved. But Lisa added: "One never knows what may happen.
If the police were to come--"

"What! the police?"

"Yes, indeed, the police; for you're mixing yourself up with politics
now."

At this Quenu sat up in bed, quite dazed and confounded by such a
violent and unexpected attack.

"I mix myself up with politics! I mix myself up with politics!" he
repeated. "It's no concern of the police. I've nothing to do with any
compromising matters."

"No," replied Lisa, shrugging her shoulders; "you merely talk about
shooting everybody."

"I! I!"

"Yes. And you bawl it out in a public-house! Mademoiselle Saget heard
you. All the neighbourhood knows by this time that you are a Red
Republican!"

Quenu fell back in bed again. He was not perfectly awake as yet. Lisa's
words resounded in his ears as though he already heard the heavy tramp
of gendarmes at the bedroom door. He looked at her as she sat there,
with her hair already arranged, her figure tightly imprisoned in her
stays, her whole appearance the same as it was on any other morning; and
he felt more astonished than ever that she should be so neat and prim
under such extraordinary circumstances.

"I leave you absolutely free, you know," she continued, as she went on
arranging the papers. "I don't want to wear the breeches, as the saying
goes. You are the master, and you are at liberty to endanger your
position, compromise our credit, and ruin our business."

Then, as Quenu tried to protest, she silenced him with a gesture. "No,
no; don't say anything," she continued. "This is no quarrel, and I am
not even asking an explanation from you. But if you had consulted me,
and we had talked the matter over together, I might have intervened.
Ah! it's a great mistake to imagine that women understand nothing about
politics. Shall I tell you what my politics are?"

She had risen from her seat whilst speaking, and was now walking to and
fro between the bed and the window, wiping as she went some specks
of dust from the bright mahogany of the mirrored wardrobe and the
dressing-table.

"My politics are the politics of honest folks," said she. "I'm grateful
to the Government when business is prosperous, when I can eat my meals
in peace and comfort, and can sleep at nights without being awakened by
the firing of guns. There were pretty times in '48, were there not? You
remember our uncle Gradelle, the worthy man, showing us his books for
that year? He lost more than six thousand francs. Now that we have got
the Empire, however, everything prospers. We sell our goods readily
enough. You can't deny it. Well, then, what is it that you want? How
will you be better off when you have shot everybody?"

She took her stand in front of the little night-table, crossed her arms
over her breast, and fixed her eyes upon Quenu, who had shuffled himself
beneath the bed-clothes, almost out of sight. He attempted to explain
what it was that his friends wanted, but he got quite confused in his
endeavours to summarise Florent's and Charvet's political and social
systems; and could only talk about the disregard shown to principles,
the accession of the democracy to power, and the regeneration of
society, in such a strange tangled way that Lisa shrugged her shoulders,
quite unable to understand him. At last, however, he extricated himself
from his difficulties by declaring that the Empire was the reign of
licentiousness, swindling finance, and highway robbery. And, recalling
an expression of Logre's he added: "We are the prey of a band of
adventurers, who are pillaging, violating, and assassinating France.
We'll have no more of them."

Lisa, however, still shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, and is that all you have got to say?" she asked with perfect
coolness.



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