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A streamlet of dark blood, after trickling
along its back to its tail, had fallen drop by drop, staining the
whiteness of the dish. Marjolin had not even taken the trouble to wipe
the block, near which the rabbit's feet were still lying. He reclined
there with his eyes half closed, encompassed by other piles of dead
poultry which crowded the shelves of the stall, poultry in paper
wrappers like bouquets, rows upon rows of protuberant breasts and bent
legs showing confusedly. And amidst all this mass of food, the young
fellow's big, fair figure, the flesh of his cheeks, hands, and powerful
neck covered with ruddy down seemed as soft as that of the magnificent
turkeys, and as plump as the breasts of the fat geese.

When he caught sight of Lisa, he at once sprang up, blushing at having
been caught sprawling in this way. He always seemed very nervous and ill
at ease in Madame Quenu's presence; and when she asked him if Monsieur
Gavard was there, he stammered out: "No, I don't think so. He was here a
little while ago, but he want away again."

Lisa looked at him, smiling; she had a great liking for him. But feeling
something warm brush against her hand, which was hanging by her side,
she raised a little shriek. Some live rabbits were thrusting their noses
out of a box under the counter of the stall, and sniffing at her skirts.

"Oh," she exclaimed with a laugh, "it's your rabbits that are tickling
me."

Then she stooped and attempted to stroke a white rabbit, which darted in
alarm into a corner of the box.

"Will Monsieur Gavard be back soon, do you think?" she asked, as she
again rose erect.

Marjolin once more replied that he did not know; then in a hesitating
way he continued: "He's very likely gone down into the cellars. He told
me, I think, that he was going there."

"Well, I think I'll wait for him, then," replied Lisa. "Could you let
him know that I am here? or I might go down to him, perhaps. Yes, that's
a good idea; I've been intending to go and have a look at the cellars
for these last five years. You'll take me down, won't you, and explain
things to me?"

Marjolin blushed crimson, and, hurrying out of the stall, walked on in
front of her, leaving the poultry to look after itself. "Of course I
will," said he. "I'll do anything you wish, Madame Lisa."

When they got down below, the beautiful Lisa felt quite suffocated by
the dank atmosphere of the cellar. She stood at the bottom step, and
raised her eyes to look at the vaulted roofing of red and white bricks
arching slightly between the iron ribs upheld by small columns. What
made her hesitate more than the gloominess of the place was a warm,
penetrating odour, the exhalations of large numbers of living creatures,
which irritated her nostrils and throat.

"What a nasty smell!" she exclaimed. "It must be very unhealthy down
here."

"It never does me any harm," replied Marjolin in astonishment. "There's
nothing unpleasant about the smell when you've got accustomed to it; and
it's very warm and cosy down here in the wintertime."

As Lisa followed him, however, she declared that the strong scent of the
poultry quite turned her stomach, and that she would certainly not
be able to eat a fowl for the next two months. All around her, the
storerooms, the small cabins where the stallkeepers keep their live
stock, formed regular streets, intersecting each other at right angles.
There were only a few scattered gas lights, and the little alleys seemed
wrapped in sleep like the lanes of a village where the inhabitants
have all gone to bed. Marjolin made Lisa feel the close-meshed wiring,
stretched on a framework of cast iron; and as she made her way along one
of the streets she amused herself by reading the names of the different
tenants, which were inscribed on blue labels.

"Monsieur Gavard's place is quite at the far end," said the young man,
still walking on.

They turned to the left, and found themselves in a sort of blind alley,
a dark, gloomy spot where not a ray of light penetrated. Gavard was not
there.

"Oh, it makes no difference," said Marjolin. "I can show you our birds
just the same. I have a key of the storeroom."

Lisa followed him into the darkness.

"You don't suppose that I can see your birds in this black oven, do
you?" she asked, laughing.

Marjolin did not reply at once; but presently he stammered out that
there was always a candle in the storeroom. He was fumbling about the
lock, and seemed quite unable to find the keyhole. As Lisa came up to
help him, she felt a hot breath on her neck; and when the young man had
at last succeeded in opening the door and lighted the candle, she saw
that he was trembling.

"You silly fellow!" she exclaimed, "to get yourself into such a state
just because a door won't open! Why, you're no better than a girl, in
spite of your big fists!"

She stepped inside the storeroom. Gavard had rented two compartments,
which he had thrown into one by removing the partition between them. In
the dirt on the floor wallowed the larger birds--the geese, turkeys,
and ducks--while up above, on tiers of shelves, were boxes with barred
fronts containing fowls and rabbits. The grating of the storeroom was so
coated with dust and cobwebs that it looked as though covered with grey
blinds. The woodwork down below was rotting, and covered with filth.
Lisa, however, not wishing to vex Marjolin, refrained from any further
expression of disgust. She pushed her fingers between the bars of the
boxes, and began to lament the fate of the unhappy fowls, which were
so closely huddled together and could not even stand upright. Then she
stroked a duck with a broken leg which was squatting in a corner, and
the young man told her that it would be killed that very evening, for
fear lest it should die during the night.

"But what do they do for food?" asked Lisa.

Thereupon he explained to her that poultry would not eat in the dark,
and that it was necessary to light a candle and wait there till they had
finished their meal.

"It amuses me to watch them," he continued; "I often stay here with a
light for hours altogether. You should see how they peck away; and when
I hide the flame of the candle with my hand they all stand stock-still
with their necks in the air, just as though the sun had set. It is
against the rules to leave a lighted candle here and go away. One of the
dealers, old Mother Palette--you know her, don't you?--nearly burned the
whole place down the other day. A fowl must have knocked the candle over
into the straw while she was away."

"A pretty thing, isn't it," said Lisa, "for fowls to insist upon having
the chandeliers lighted up every time they take a meal?"

This idea made her laugh. Then she came out of the storeroom, wiping her
feet, and holding up her skirts to keep them from the filth. Marjolin
blew out the candle and locked the door. Lisa felt rather nervous at
finding herself in the dark again with this big young fellow, and so she
hastened on in front.

"I'm glad I came, all the same," she presently said, as he joined her.
"There is a great deal more under these markets than I ever imagined.
But I must make haste now and get home again. They'll wonder what has
become of me at the shop. If Monsieur Gavard comes back, tell him that I
want to speak to him immediately."

"I expect he's in the killing-room," said Marjolin. "We'll go and see,
if you like."

Lisa made no reply. She felt oppressed by the close atmosphere which
warmed her face. She was quite flushed, and her bodice, generally so
still and lifeless, began to heave. Moreover, the sound of Marjolin's
hurrying steps behind her filled her with an uneasy feeling. At last she
stepped aside, and let him go on in front. The lanes of this underground
village were still fast asleep. Lisa noticed that her companion was
taking the longest way. When they came out in front of the railway track
he told her that he had wished to show it to her; and they stood for a
moment or two looking through the chinks in the hoarding of heavy beams.
Then Marjolin proposed to take her on to the line; but she refused,
saying that it was not worth while, as she could see things well enough
where she was.

As they returned to the poultry cellars they found old Madame Palette in
front of her storeroom, removing the cords of a large square hamper, in
which a furious fluttering of wings and scraping of feet could be heard.
As she unfastened the last knot the lid suddenly flew open, as though
shot up by a spring, and some big geese thrust out their heads and
necks. Then, in wild alarm, they sprang from their prison and rushed
away, craning their necks, and filling the dark cellars with a frightful
noise of hissing and clattering of beaks. Lisa could not help laughing,
in spite of the lamentations of the old woman, who swore like a carter
as she caught hold of two of the absconding birds and dragged them back
by the neck. Marjolin, meantime, set off in pursuit of a third. They
could hear him running along the narrow alleys, hunting for the runaway,
and delighting in the chase. Then, far off in the distance, they heard
the sounds of a struggle, and presently Marjolin came back again,
bringing the goose with him. Mother Palette, a sallow-faced old woman,
took it in her arms and clasped it for a moment to her bosom, in the
classic attitude of Leda.

"Well, well, I'm sure I don't know what I should have done if you hadn't
been here," said she. "The other day I had a regular fight with one of
the brutes; but I had my knife with me, and I cut its throat."

Marjolin was quite out of breath. When they reached the stone blocks
where the poultry were killed, and where the gas burnt more brightly,
Lisa could see that he was perspiring, and had bold, glistening eyes.
She thought he looked very handsome like that, with his broad shoulders,
big flushed face, and fair curly hair, and she looked at him so
complacently, with that air of admiration which women feel they may
safely express for quite young lads, that he relapsed into timid
bashfulness again.

"Well, Monsieur Gavard isn't here, you see," she said.



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