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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. Jostled and knocked to the ground, Florent fell at the corner
of the Rue Vivienne and knew nothing further of what happened, for the
panic-stricken crowd, in their wild terror of being shot, trampled over
his body. Presently, hearing everything quiet, he made an attempt to
rise; but across him there lay a young woman in a pink bonnet, whose
shawl had slipped aside, allowing her chemisette, pleated in little
tucks, to be seen. Two bullets had pierced the upper part of her bosom;
and when Florent gently removed the poor creature to free his legs,
two streamlets of blood oozed from her wounds on to his hands. Then he
sprang up with a sudden bound, and rushed madly away, hatless and with
his hands still wet with blood. Until evening he wandered about the
streets, with his head swimming, ever seeing the young woman lying
across his legs with her pale face, her blue staring eyes, her distorted
lips, and her expression of astonishment at thus meeting death so
suddenly. He was a shy, timid fellow. Albeit thirty years old he had
never dared to stare women in the face; and now, for the rest of his
life, he was to have that one fixed in his heart and memory. He felt as
though he had lost some loved one of his own.

[*] 1851. Two days after the Coup d'Etat.--Translator.

In the evening, without knowing how he had got there, still dazed and
horrified as he was by the terrible scenes of the afternoon, he had
found himself at a wine shop in the Rue Montorgueil, where several men
were drinking and talking of throwing up barricades. He went away with
them, helped them to tear up a few paving-stones, and seated himself on
the barricade, weary with his long wandering through the streets, and
reflecting that he would fight when the soldiers came up. However, he
had not even a knife with him, and was still bareheaded. Towards eleven
o'clock he dozed off, and in his sleep could see the two holes in the
dead woman's white chemisette glaring at him like eyes reddened by tears
and blood. When he awoke he found himself in the grasp of four police
officers, who were pummelling him with their fists. The men who had
built the barricade had fled. The police officers treated him with still
greater violence, and indeed almost strangled him when they noticed that
his hands were stained with blood. It was the blood of the young woman.

Florent raised his eyes to the luminous dial of Saint Eustache with his
mind so full of these recollections that he did not notice the position
of the pointers. It was, however, nearly four o'clock. The markets were
as yet wrapped in sleep. Madame Francois was still talking to old Madame
Chantemesse, both standing and arguing about the price of turnips, and
Florent now called to mind how narrowly he had escaped being shot over
yonder by the wall of Saint Eustache. A detachment of gendarmes had just
blown out the brains of five unhappy fellows caught at a barricade in
the Rue Greneta. The five corpses were lying on the footway, at a spot
where he thought he could now distinguish a heap of rosy radishes. He
himself had escaped being shot merely because the policemen only carried
swords. They took him to a neighbouring police station and gave the
officer in charge a scrap of paper, on which were these words written
in pencil: "Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous." Then he had
been dragged from station to station till the morning came. The scrap of
paper accompanied him wherever he went. He was manacled and guarded as
though he were a raving madman. At the station in the Rue de la Lingerie
some tipsy soldiers wanted to shoot him; and they had already lighted a
lantern with that object when the order arrived for the prisoners to be
taken to the depot of the Prefecture of Police. Two days afterwards he
found himself in a casemate of the fort of Bicetre. Ever since then he
had been suffering from hunger. He had felt hungry in the casemate, and
the pangs of hunger had never since left him. A hundred men were pent in
the depths of that cellar-like dungeon, where, scarce able to breathe,
they devoured the few mouthfuls of bread that were thrown to them, like
so many captive wild beasts.

When Florent was brought before an investigating magistrate, without
anyone to defend him, and without any evidence being adduced, he was
accused of belonging to a secret society; and when he swore that this
was untrue, the magistrate produced the scrap of paper from amongst the
documents before him: "Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous."
That was quite sufficient. He was condemned to transportation. Six weeks
afterwards, one January night, a gaoler awoke him and locked him up in
a courtyard with more than four hundred other prisoners. An hour later
this first detachment started for the pontoons and exile, handcuffed and
guarded by a double file of gendarmes with loaded muskets. They crossed
the Austerlitz bridge, followed the line of the boulevards, and so
reached the terminus of the Western Railway line. It was a joyous
carnival night. The windows of the restaurants on the boulevards
glittered with lights. At the top of the Rue Vivienne, just at the spot
where he ever saw the young woman lying dead--that unknown young woman
whose image he always bore with him--he now beheld a large carriage in
which a party of masked women, with bare shoulders and laughing voices,
were venting their impatience at being detained, and expressing their
horror of that endless procession of convicts. The whole of the way from
Paris to Havre the prisoners never received a mouthful of bread or a
drink of water. The officials had forgotten to give them their rations
before starting, and it was not till thirty-six hours afterwards, when
they had been stowed away in the hold of the frigate _Canada_, that they
at last broke their fast.

No, Florent had never again been free from hunger. He recalled all the
past to mind, but could not recollect a single hour of satiety. He had
become dry and withered; his stomach seemed to have shrunk; his skin
clung to his bones. And now that he was back in Paris once more, he
found it fat and sleek and flourishing, teeming with food in the midst
of the darkness. He had returned to it on a couch of vegetables; he
lingered in its midst encompassed by unknown masses of food which still
and ever increased and disquieted him. Had that happy carnival night
continued throughout those seven years, then? Once again he saw the
glittering windows on the boulevards, the laughing women, the luxurious,
greedy city which he had quitted on that far-away January night; and it
seemed to him that everything had expanded and increased in harmony
with those huge markets, whose gigantic breathing, still heavy from the
indigestion of the previous day, he now began to hear.

Old Mother Chantemesse had by this time made up her mind to buy a dozen
bunches of turnips. She put them in her apron, which she held closely
pressed to her person, thus making herself look yet more corpulent than
she was; and for some time longer she lingered there, still gossiping in
a drawling voice. When at last she went away, Madame Francois again sat
down by the side of Florent.

"Poor old Mother Chantemesse!" she said; "she must be at least
seventy-two. I can remember her buying turnips of my father when I was
a mere chit. And she hasn't a relation in the world; no one but a young
hussy whom she picked up I don't know where and who does nothing but
bring her trouble. Still, she manages to live, selling things by the
ha'p'orth and clearing her couple of francs profit a day. For my own
part, I'm sure that I could never spend my days on the foot-pavement in
this horrid Paris! And she hasn't even any relations here!"

"You have some relations in Paris, I suppose?" she asked presently,
seeing that Florent seemed disinclined to talk.

Florent did not appear to hear her. A feeling of distrust came back to
him. His head was teeming with old stories of the police, stories of
spies prowling about at every street corner, and of women selling the
secrets which they managed to worm out of the unhappy fellows they
deluded. Madame Francois was sitting close beside him and certainly
looked perfectly straightforward and honest, with her big calm face,
above which was bound a black and yellow handkerchief. She seemed about
five and thirty years of age, and was somewhat stoutly built, with a
certain hardy beauty due to her life in the fresh air. A pair of black
eyes, which beamed with kindly tenderness, softened the more masculine
characteristics of her person. She certainly was inquisitive, but her
curiosity was probably well meant.

"I've a nephew in Paris," she continued, without seeming at all offended
by Florent's silence. "He's turned out badly though, and has enlisted.
It's a pleasant thing to have somewhere to go to and stay at, isn't it?
I dare say there's a big surprise in store for your relations when they
see you. But it's always a pleasure to welcome one of one's own people
back again, isn't it?"

She kept her eyes fixed upon him while she spoke, doubtless
compassionating his extreme scragginess; fancying, too, that there was
a "gentleman" inside those old black rags, and so not daring to slip a
piece of silver into his hand. At last, however, she timidly murmured:
"All the same, if you should happen just at present to be in want of
anything----"

But Florent checked her with uneasy pride. He told her that he had
everything he required, and had a place to go to. She seemed quite
pleased to hear this, and, as though to tranquillise herself concerning
him, repeated several times: "Well, well, in that case you've only got
to wait till daylight."

A large bell at the corner of the fruit market, just over Florent's
head, now began to ring.



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