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He went down the Rue
Montorgueil at a slow trot, seemingly well pleased to return to Nanterre
so soon. However, he was not going home without a load. Madame Francois
had a contract with the company which undertook the scavenging of the
markets, and twice a week she carried off with her a load of leaves,
forked up from the mass of refuse which littered the square. It made
excellent manure. In a few minutes the cart was filled to overflowing.
Claude and Florent stretched themselves out on the deep bed of greenery;
Madame Francois grasped her reins, and Balthazar went off at his slow,
steady pace, his head somewhat bent by reason of there being so many
passengers to pull along.

This excursion had been talked of for a long time past. Madame Francois
laughed cheerily. She was partial to the two men, and promised them
an _omelette au lard_ as had never been eaten, said she, in "that
villainous Paris." Florent and Claude revelled in the thought of this
day of lounging idleness which as yet had scarcely begun to dawn.
Nanterre seemed to be some distant paradise into which they would
presently enter.

"Are you quite comfortable?" Madame Francois asked as the cart turned
into the Rue du Pont Neuf.

Claude declared that their couch was as soft as a bridal bed. Lying on
their backs, with their hands crossed under their heads, both men were
looking up at the pale sky from which the stars were vanishing. All
along the Rue de Rivoli they kept unbroken silence, waiting till they
should have got clear of the houses, and listening to the worthy woman
as she chattered to Balthazar: "Take your time, old man," she said to
him in kindly tones. "We're in no hurry; we shall be sure to get there
at last."

On reaching the Champs Elysees, when the artist saw nothing but
tree-tops on either side of him, and the great green mass of the
Tuileries gardens in the distance, he woke up, as it were, and began to
talk. When the cart had passed the end of the Rue du Roule he had caught
a glimpse of the side entrance of Saint Eustache under the giant roofing
of one of the market covered-ways. He was constantly referring to this
view of the church, and tried to give it a symbolical meaning.

"It's an odd mixture," he said, "that bit of church framed round by an
avenue of cast iron. The one will kill the other; the iron will slay
the stone, and the time is not very far off. Do you believe in chance,
Florent? For my part, I don't think that it was any mere chance of
position that set a rose-window of Saint Eustache right in the middle of
the central markets. No; there's a whole manifesto in it. It is modern
art, realism, naturalism--whatever you like to call it--that has grown
up and dominates ancient art. Don't you agree with me?"

Then, as Florent still kept silence, Claude continued: "Besides, that
church is a piece of bastard architecture, made up of the dying gasp of
the middle ages, and the first stammering of the Renaissance. Have you
noticed what sort of churches are built nowadays? They resemble all
kinds of things--libraries, observatories, pigeon-cotes, barracks; and
surely no one can imagine that the Deity dwells in such places. The
pious old builders are all dead and gone; and it would be better to
cease erecting those hideous carcasses of stone, in which we have no
belief to enshrine. Since the beginning of the century there has only
been one large original pile of buildings erected in Paris--a pile in
accordance with modern developments--and that's the central markets. You
hear me, Florent? Ah! they are a fine bit of building, though they but
faintly indicate what we shall see in the twentieth century! And so, you
see, Saint Eustache is done for! It stands there with its rose-windows,
deserted by worshippers, while the markets spread out by its side and
teem with noisy life. Yes! that's how I understand it all, my friend."

"Ah! Monsieur Claude," said Madame Francois, laughing, "the woman who
cut your tongue-string certainly earned her money. Look at Balthazar
laying his ears back to listen to you. Come, come, get along,
Balthazar!"

The cart was slowly making its way up the incline. At this early hour of
the morning the avenue, with its double lines of iron chairs on either
pathway, and its lawns, dotted with flowerbeds and clumps of shrubbery,
stretching away under the blue shadows of the trees, was quite deserted;
however, at the Rond-Point a lady and gentleman on horseback passed the
cart at a gentle trot. Florent, who had made himself a pillow with
a bundle of cabbage-leaves, was still gazing at the sky, in which a
far-stretching rosy glow was appearing. Every now and then he would
close his eyes, the better to enjoy the fresh breeze of the morning
as it fanned his face. He was so happy to escape from the markets, and
travel on through the pure air, that he remained speechless, and did not
even listen to what was being said around him.

"And then, too, what fine jokers are those fellows who imprison art in a
toy-box!" resumed Claude, after a pause. "They are always repeating the
same idiotic words: 'You can't create art out of science,' says one;
'Mechanical appliances kill poetry,' says another; and a pack of fools
wail over the fate of the flowers, as though anybody wished the flowers
any harm! I'm sick of all such twaddle; I should like to answer all that
snivelling with some work of open defiance. I should take a pleasure in
shocking those good people. Shall I tell you what was the finest thing
I ever produced since I first began to work, and the one which I recall
with the greatest pleasure? It's quite a story. When I was at my
Aunt Lisa's on Christmas Eve last year that idiot of an Auguste, the
assistant, was setting out the shop-window. Well, he quite irritated
me by the weak, spiritless way in which he arranged the display; and at
last I requested him to take himself off, saying that I would group
the things myself in a proper manner. You see, I had plenty of bright
colours to work with--the red of the tongues, the yellow of the hams,
the blue of the paper shavings, the rosy pink of the things that had
been cut into, the green of the sprigs of heath, and the black of the
black-puddings--ah! a magnificent black, which I have never managed to
produce on my palette. And naturally, the _crepine_, the small sausages,
the chitterlings, and the crumbed trotters provided me with delicate
greys and browns. I produced a perfect work of art. I took the dishes,
the plates, the pans, and the jars, and arranged the different colours;
and I devised a wonderful picture of still life, with subtle scales of
tints leading up to brilliant flashes of colour. The red tongues seemed
to thrust themselves out like greedy flames, and the black-puddings,
surrounded by pale sausages, suggested a dark night fraught with
terrible indigestion. I had produced, you see, a picture symbolical of
the gluttony of Christmas Eve, when people meet and sup--the midnight
feasting, the ravenous gorging of stomachs void and faint after all the
singing of hymns.[*] At the top of everything a huge turkey exhibited
its white breast, marbled blackly by the truffles showing through its
skin. It was something barbaric and superb, suggesting a paunch amidst
a halo of glory; but there was such a cutting, sarcastic touch about it
all that people crowded to the window, alarmed by the fierce flare of
the shop-front. When my aunt Lisa came back from the kitchen she was
quite frightened, and thought I'd set the fat in the shop on fire;
and she considered the appearance of the turkey so indelicate that she
turned me out of the place while Auguste re-arranged the window after
his own idiotic fashion. Such brutes will never understand the language
of a red splotch by the side of a grey one. Ah, well! that was my
masterpiece. I have never done anything better."

[*] An allusion to the "midnight mass" usually celebrated in
Roman Catholic churches on Christmas Eve.--Translator.

He relapsed into silence, smiling and dwelling with gratification on
this reminiscence. The cart had now reached the Arc de Triomphe, and
strong currents of air swept from the avenues across the expanse of open
ground. Florent sat up, and inhaled with zest the first odours of grass
wafted from the fortifications. He turned his back on Paris, anxious
to behold the country in the distance. At the corner of the Rue de
Longchamp, Madame Francois pointed out to him the spot where she had
picked him up. This rendered him thoughtful, and he gazed at her as
she sat there, so healthy-looking and serene, with her arms slightly
extended so as to grasp the reins. She looked even handsomer than Lisa,
with her neckerchief tied over her head, her robust glow of health, and
her brusque, kindly air. When she gave a slight cluck with her tongue,
Balthazar pricked up his ears and rattled down the road at a quicker
pace.

On arriving at Nanterre, the cart turned to the left into a narrow lane,
skirted some blank walls, and finally came to a standstill at the end of
a sort of blind alley. It was the end of the world, Madame Francois used
to say. The load of vegetable leaves now had to be discharged. Claude
and Florent would not hear of the journeyman gardener, who was planting
lettuces, leaving his work, but armed themselves with pitchforks and
proceeded to toss the leaves into the manure pit. This occupation
afforded them much amusement. Claude had quite a liking for manure,
since it symbolises the world and its life. The strippings and parings
of the vegetables, the scourings of the markets, the refuse that fell
from that colossal table, remained full of life, and returned to the
spot where the vegetables had previously sprouted, to warm and nourish
fresh generations of cabbages, turnips, and carrots. They rose again
in fertile crops, and once more went to spread themselves out upon the
market square. Paris rotted everything, and returned everything to the
soil, which never wearied of repairing the ravages of death.

"Ah!" exclaimed Claude, as he plied his fork for the last time, "here's
a cabbage-stalk that I'm sure I recognise.



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