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I may
remark that the Fat, so long as they've not grown old, are charming
creatures. Monsieur Lebigre is one of the Fat--don't you think so? As
for your political friends, Charvet, Clemence, Logre, and Lacaille, they
mostly belong to the Thin. I only except that big animal Alexandre, and
that prodigy Robine, who has caused me a vast amount of annoyance."

The artist continued to talk in this strain from the Pont de Neuilly to
the Arc de Triomphe. He returned to some of those whom he had already
mentioned, and completed their portraits with a few characteristic
touches. Logre, he said, was one of the Thin whose belly had been placed
between his shoulders. Beautiful Lisa was all stomach, and the beautiful
Norman all bosom. Mademoiselle Saget, in her earlier life, must have
certainly lost some opportunity to fatten herself, for she detested the
Fat, while, at the same time, she despised the Thin. As for Gavard,
he was compromising his position as one of the Fat, and would end by
becoming as flat as a bug.

"And what about Madame Francois?" Florent asked.

Claude seemed much embarrassed by this question. He cast about for an
answer, and at last stammered:

"Madame Francois, Madame Francois--well, no, I really don't know; I
never thought about classifying her. But she's a dear good soul, and
that's quite sufficient. She's neither one of the Fat nor one of the
Thin!"

They both laughed. They were now in front of the Arc de Triomphe. The
sun, over by the hills of Suresnes, was so low on the horizon that their
colossal shadows streaked the whiteness of the great structure even
above the huge groups of statuary, like strokes made with a piece of
charcoal. This increased Claude's merriment, he waved his arms and bent
his body; and then, as he started on his way again, he said; "Did you
notice--just as the sun set our two heads shot up to the sky!"

But Florent no longer smiled. Paris was grasping him again, that Paris
which now frightened him so much, after having cost him so many tears at
Cayenne. When he reached the markets night was falling, and there was
a suffocating smell. He bent his head as he once more returned to
the nightmare of endless food, whilst preserving the sweet yet sad
recollection of that day of bright health odorous with the perfume of
thyme.



CHAPTER V

At about four o'clock on the afternoon of the following day Lisa betook
herself to Saint Eustache. For the short walk across the square she had
arrayed herself very seriously in a black silk gown and thick woollen
shawl. The handsome Norman, who, from her stall in the fish market,
watched her till she vanished into the church porch, was quite amazed.

"Hallo! So the fat thing's gone in for priests now, has she?" she
exclaimed, with a sneer. "Well, a little holy water may do her good!"

She was mistaken in her surmises, however, for Lisa was not a devotee.
She did not observe the ordinances of the Church, but said that she
did her best to lead an honest life, and that this was all that was
necessary. At the same time, however, she disliked to hear religion
spoken ill of, and often silenced Gavard, who delighted in scandalous
stories of priests and their doings. Talk of that sort seemed to her
altogether improper. Everyone, in her opinion, should be allowed to
believe as they pleased, and every scruple should be respected. Besides,
the majority of the clergy were most estimable men. She knew Abbe
Roustan, of Saint Eustache--a distinguished priest, a man of shrewd
sense, and one, she thought, whose friendship might be safely relied
upon. And she would wind up by explaining that religion was absolutely
necessary for the people; she looked upon it as a sort of police force
that helped to maintain order, and without which no government would be
possible. When Gavard went too far on this subject and asserted that the
priests ought to be turned into the streets and have their shops shut
up, Lisa, shrugged her shoulders and replied: "A great deal of good that
would do! Why, before a month was over the people would be murdering
one another in the streets, and you would be compelled to invent another
God. That was just what happened in '93. You know very well that I'm not
given to mixing with the priests, but for all that I say that they are
necessary, as we couldn't do without them."

And so when Lisa happened to enter a church she always manifested
the utmost decorum. She had bought a handsome missal, which she never
opened, for use when she was invited to a funeral or a wedding. She
knelt and rose at the proper times, and made a point of conducting
herself with all propriety. She assumed, indeed, what she considered a
sort of official demeanour, such as all well-to-do folks, tradespeople,
and house-owners ought to observe with regard to religion.

As she entered Saint Eustache that afternoon she let the double doors,
covered with green baize, faded and worn by the frequent touch of pious
hands, close gently behind her. Then she dipped her fingers in the holy
water and crossed herself in the correct fashion. And afterwards, with
hushed footsteps, she made her way to the chapel of Saint Agnes, where
two kneeling women with their faces buried in their hands were waiting,
whilst the blue skirts of a third protruded from the confessional. Lisa
seemed rather put out by the sight of these women, and, addressing a
verger who happened to pass along, wearing a black skullcap and
dragging his feet over the slabs, she inquired: "Is this Monsieur l'Abbe
Roustan's day for hearing confessions?"

The verger replied that his reverence had only two more penitents
waiting, and that they would not detain him long, so that if Lisa would
take a chair her turn would speedily come. She thanked him, without
telling him that she had not come to confess; and, making up her mind to
wait, she began to pace the church, going as far as the chief entrance,
whence she gazed at the lofty, severe, bare nave stretching between the
brightly coloured aisles. Raising her head a little, she examined the
high altar, which she considered too plain, having no taste for the cold
grandeur of stonework, but preferring the gilding and gaudy colouring of
the side chapels. Those on the side of the Rue du Jour looked greyish in
the light which filtered through their dusty windows, but on the side
of the markets the sunset was lighting up the stained glass with lovely
tints, limpid greens and yellows in particular, which reminded Lisa of
the bottle of liqueurs in front of Monsieur Lebigre's mirror. She came
back by this side, which seemed to be warmed by the glow of light,
and took a passing interest in the reliquaries, altar ornaments, and
paintings steeped in prismatic reflections. The church was empty,
quivering with the silence that fell from its vaulted roofing. Here and
there a woman's dress showed like a dark splotch amidst the vague yellow
of the chairs; and a low buzzing came from the closed confessionals. As
Lisa again passed the chapel of Saint Agnes she saw the blue dress still
kneeling at Abbe Roustan's feet.

"Why, if I'd wanted to confess I could have said everything in ten
seconds," she thought, proud of her irreproachable integrity.

Then she went on to the end of the church. Behind the high altar, in the
gloom of a double row of pillars, is the chapel of the Blessed Virgin,
damp and dark and silent. The dim stained windows only show the flowing
crimson and violet robes of saints, which blaze like flames of mystic
love in the solemn, silent adoration of the darkness. It is a weird,
mysterious spot, like some crepuscular nook of paradise solely illumined
by the gleaming stars of two tapers. The four brass lamps hanging from
the roof remain unlighted, and are but faintly seen; on espying them you
think of the golden censers which the angels swing before the throne of
Mary. And kneeling on the chairs between the pillars there are always
women surrendering themselves languorously to the dim spot's voluptuous
charm.

Lisa stood and gazed tranquilly around her. She did not feel the least
emotion, but considered that it was a mistake not to light the lamps.
Their brightness would have given the place a more cheerful look. The
gloom even struck her as savouring of impropriety. Her face was warmed
by the flames of some candles burning in a candelabrum by her side, and
an old woman armed with a big knife was scraping off the wax which had
trickled down and congealed into pale tears. And amidst the quivering
silence, the mute ecstasy of adoration prevailing in the chapel, Lisa
would distinctly hear the rumbling of the vehicles turning out of the
Rue Montmartre, behind the scarlet and purple saints on the windows,
whilst in the distance the markets roared without a moment's pause.

Just as Lisa was leaving the chapel, she saw the younger of the
Mehudins, Claire, the dealer in fresh water fish, come in. The girl
lighted a taper at the candelabrum, and then went to kneel behind a
pillar, her knees pressed upon the hard stones, and her face so pale
beneath her loose fair hair that she seemed a corpse. And believing
herself to be securely screened from observation, she gave way to
violent emotion, and wept hot tears with a passionate outpouring of
prayer which bent her like a rushing wind. Lisa looked on in amazement,
for the Mehudins were not known to be particularly pious; indeed, Claire
was accustomed to speak of religion and priests in such terms as to
horrify one.

"What's the meaning of this, I wonder?" pondered Lisa, as she again
made her way to the chapel of Saint Agnes. "The hussy must have been
poisoning some one or other."

Abbe Roustan was at last coming out of his confessional. He was a
handsome man, of some forty years of age, with a smiling, kindly air.
When he recognised Madame Quenu he grasped her hand, called her "dear
lady," and conducted her to the vestry, where, taking off his surplice,
he told her that he would be entirely at her service in a moment. They
returned, the priest in his cassock, bareheaded, and Lisa strutting
along in her shawl, and paced up and down in front of the side-chapels
adjacent to the Rue du Jour.



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