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Here was a cluster
of flowers of delicious purity, there a fat nosegay, whatever one might
dream of for the hand of a marchioness or a fish-wife; all the charming
quaint fancies, in short, which the brain of a sharp-witted child of
twelve, budding into womanhood, could devise.

There were only two flowers for which Cadine retained respect; white
lilac, which by the bundle of eight or ten sprays cost from fifteen to
twenty francs in the winter time; and camellias, which were still more
costly, and arrived in boxes of a dozen, lying on beds of moss, and
covered with cotton wool. She handled these as delicately as though they
were jewels, holding her breath for fear of dimming their lustre, and
fastening their short stems to springs of cane with the tenderest care.
She spoke of them with serious reverence. She told Marjolin one day
that a speckless white camellia was a very rare and exceptionally lovely
thing, and, as she was making him admire one, he exclaimed: "Yes;
it's pretty; but I prefer your neck, you know. It's much more soft and
transparent than the camellia, and there are some little blue and pink
veins just like the pencillings on a flower." Then, drawing near and
sniffing, he murmured: "Ah! you smell of orange blossom to-day."

Cadine was self-willed, and did not get on well in the position of a
servant, so she ended by setting up in business on her own account. As
she was only thirteen at the time, and could not hope for a big trade
and a stall in the flower avenue, she took to selling one-sou bunches
of violets pricked into a bed of moss in an osier tray which she carried
hanging from her neck. All day long she wandered about the markets and
their precincts with her little bit of hanging garden. She loved this
continual stroll, which relieved the numbness of her limbs after long
hours spent, with bent knees, on a low chair, making bouquets. She
fastened her violets together with marvellous deftness as she walked
along. She counted out six or eight flowers, according to the season,
doubled a sprig of cane in half, added a leaf, twisted some damp thread
round the whole, and broke off the thread with her strong young teeth.
The little bunches seemed to spring spontaneously from the layer of
moss, so rapidly did she stick them into it.

Along the footways, amidst the jostling of the street traffic, her
nimble fingers were ever flowering though she gave them not a glance,
but boldly scanned the shops and passers-by. Sometimes she would rest in
a doorway for a moment; and alongside the gutters, greasy with kitchen
slops, she sat, as it were a patch of springtime, a suggestion of green
woods, and purple blossoms. Her flowers still betokened her frame of
mind, her fits of bad temper and her thrills of tenderness. Sometimes
they bristled and glowered with anger amidst their crumpled leaves; at
other times they spoke only of love and peacefulness as they smiled in
their prim collars. As Cadine passed along, she left a sweet perfume
behind her; Marjolin followed her devoutly. From head to foot she now
exhaled but one scent, and the lad repeated that she was herself a
violet, a great big violet.

"Do you remember the day when we went to Romainville together?" he would
say; "Romainville, where there are so many violets. The scent was just
the same. Oh! don't change again--you smell too sweetly."

And she did not change again. This was her last trade. Still, she often
neglected her osier tray to go rambling about the neighbourhood. The
building of the central markets--as yet incomplete--provided both
children with endless opportunities for amusement. They made their way
into the midst of the work-yards through some gap or other between
the planks; they descended into the foundations, and climbed up to the
cast-iron pillars. Every nook, every piece of the framework witnessed
their games and quarrels; the pavilions grew up under the touch of their
little hands. From all this arose the affection which they felt for
the great markets, and which the latter seemed to return. They were on
familiar terms with that gigantic pile, old friends as they were, who
had seen each pin and bolt put into place. They felt no fear of the huge
monster; but slapped it with their childish hands, treated it like
a good friend, a chum whose presence brought no constraint. And the
markets seemed to smile at these two light-hearted children, whose love
was the song, the idyll of their immensity.

Cadine alone now slept at Mother Chantemesse's. The old woman had packed
Marjolin off to a neighbour's. This made the two children very unhappy.
Still, they contrived to spend much of their time together. In the
daytime they would hide themselves away in the warehouses of the Rue au
Lard, behind piles of apples and cases of oranges; and in the evening
they would dive into the cellars beneath the poultry market, and secret
themselves among the huge hampers of feathers which stood near the
blocks where the poultry was killed. They were quite alone there, amidst
the strong smell of the poultry, and with never a sound but the sudden
crowing of some rooster to break upon their babble and their
laughter. The feathers amidst which they found themselves were of
all sorts--turkey's feathers, long and black; goose quills, white and
flexible; the downy plumage of ducks, soft like cotton wool; and the
ruddy and mottled feathers of fowls, which at the faintest breath flew
up in a cloud like a swarm of flies buzzing in the sun. And then in
wintertime there was the purple plumage of the pheasants, the ashen
grey of the larks, the splotched silk of the partridges, quails, and
thrushes. And all these feathers freshly plucked were still warm and
odoriferous, seemingly endowed with life. The spot was as cosy as a
nest; at times a quiver as of flapping wings sped by, and Marjolin and
Cadine, nestling amidst all the plumage, often imagined that they were
being carried aloft by one of those huge birds with outspread pinions
that one hears of in the fairy tales.

As time went on their childish affection took the inevitable turn.
Veritable offsprings of Nature, knowing naught of social conventions and
restraints, they loved one another in all innocence and guilelessness.
They mated even as the birds of the air mate, even as youth and maid
mated in primeval times, because such is Nature's law. At sixteen
Cadine was a dusky town gipsy, greedy and sensual, whilst Marjolin, now
eighteen, was a tall, strapping fellow, as handsome a youth as could
be met, but still with his mental faculties quite undeveloped. He had
lived, indeed, a mere animal life, which had strengthened his frame, but
left his intellect in a rudimentary state.

When old Madame Chantemesse realised the turn that things were taking
she wrathfully upbraided Cadine and struck out vigorously at her with
her broom. But the hussy only laughed and dodged the blows, and then
hied off to her lover. And gradually the markets became their home,
their manger, their aviary, where they lived and loved amidst the meat,
the butter, the vegetables, and the feathers.

They discovered another little paradise in the pavilion where butter,
eggs, and cheese were sold wholesale. Enormous walls of empty baskets
were here piled up every morning, and amidst these Cadine and Marjolin
burrowed and hollowed out a dark lair for themselves. A mere partition
of osier-work separated them from the market crowd, whose loud voices
rang out all around them. They often shook with laughter when people,
without the least suspicion of their presence, stopped to talk together
a few yards away from them. On these occasions they would contrive
peepholes, and spy through them, and when cherries were in season Cadine
tossed the stones in the faces of all the old women who passed along--a
pastime which amused them the more as the startled old crones could
never make out whence the hail of cherry-stones had come. They also
prowled about the depths of the cellars, knowing every gloomy corner of
them, and contriving to get through the most carefully locked gates. One
of their favourite amusements was to visit the track of the subterranean
railway, which had been laid under the markets, and which those who
planned the latter had intended to connect with the different goods'
stations of Paris. Sections of this railway were laid beneath each
of the covered ways, between the cellars of each pavilion; the work,
indeed, was in such an advanced state that turn-tables had been put into
position at all the points of intersection, and were in readiness for
use. After much examination, Cadine and Marjolin had at last succeeded
in discovering a loose plank in the hoarding which enclosed the track,
and they had managed to convert it into a door, by which they could
easily gain access to the line. There they were quite shut off from
the world, though they could hear the continuous rumbling of the street
traffic over their heads.

The line stretched through deserted vaults, here and there illumined
by a glimmer of light filtering through iron gratings, while in certain
dark corners gas jets were burning. And Cadine and Marjolin rambled
about as in the secret recesses of some castle of their own, secure from
all interruption, and rejoicing in the buzzy silence, the murky glimmer,
and subterranean secrecy, which imparted a touch of melodrama to their
experiences. All sorts of smells were wafted through the hoarding from
the neighbouring cellars; the musty smell of vegetables, the pungency of
fish, the overpowering stench of cheese, and the warm reek of poultry.

At other times, on clear nights and fine dawns, they would climb on to
the roofs, ascending thither by the steep staircases of the turrets
at the angles of the pavilions. Up above they found fields of leads,
endless promenades and squares, a stretch of undulating country which
belonged to them. They rambled round the square roofs of the pavilions,
followed the course of the long roofs of the covered ways, climbed and
descended the slopes, and lost themselves in endless perambulations of
discovery.



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