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At present she was complete mistress
of the whole neighbourhood of the markets. There was no longer any gap
in her information. She could have narrated the secret history of every
street, shop by shop. And thus, as she entered the fruit market, she
fairly gasped with delight, in a perfect transport of pleasure.

"Hallo, Mademoiselle Saget," cried La Sarriette from her stall, "what
are you smiling to yourself like that about? Have you won the grand
prize in the lottery?"

"No, no. Ah, my dear, if you only knew!"

Standing there amidst her fruit, La Sarriette, in her picturesque
disarray, looked charming. Frizzy hair fell over her brow like vine
branches. Her bare arms and neck, indeed all the rosy flesh she showed,
bloomed with the freshness of peach and cherry. She had playfully hung
some cherries on her ears, black cherries which dangled against her
cheeks when she stooped, shaking with merry laughter. She was eating
currants, and her merriment arose from the way in which she was smearing
her face with them. Her lips were bright red, glistening with the juice
of the fruit, as though they had been painted and perfumed with some
seraglio face-paint. A perfume of plum exhaled from her gown, while
from the kerchief carelessly fastened across her breast came an odour of
strawberries.

Fruits of all kinds were piled around her in her narrow stall. On the
shelves at the back were rows of melons, so-called "cantaloups" swarming
with wart-like knots, "maraichers" whose skin was covered with grey
lace-like netting, and "culs-de-singe" displaying smooth bare bumps. In
front was an array of choice fruits, carefully arranged in baskets, and
showing like smooth round cheeks seeking to hide themselves, or glimpses
of sweet childish faces, half veiled by leaves. Especially was this the
case with the peaches, the blushing peaches of Montreuil, with skin
as delicate and clear as that of northern maidens, and the yellow,
sun-burnt peaches from the south, brown like the damsels of Provence.
The apricots, on their beds of moss, gleamed with the hue of amber or
with that sunset glow which so warmly colours the necks of brunettes at
the nape, just under the little wavy curls which fall below the chignon.
The cherries, ranged one by one, resembled the short lips of smiling
Chinese girls; the Montmorencies suggested the dumpy mouths of buxom
women; the English ones were longer and graver-looking; the common black
ones seemed as though they had been bruised and crushed by kisses; while
the white-hearts, with their patches of rose and white, appeared to
smile with mingled merriment and vexation. Then piles of apples
and pears, built up with architectural symmetry, often in pyramids,
displayed the ruddy glow of budding breasts and the gleaming sheen of
shoulders, quite a show of nudity, lurking modestly behind a screen of
fern-leaves. There were all sorts of varieties--little red ones so
tiny that they seemed to be yet in the cradle, shapeless "rambours"
for baking, "calvilles" in light yellow gowns, sanguineous-looking
"Canadas," blotched "chataignier" apples, fair freckled rennets and
dusky russets. Then came the pears--the "blanquettes," the "British
queens," the "Beurres," the "messirejeans," and the "duchesses"--some
dumpy, some long and tapering, some with slender necks, and others with
thick-set shoulders, their green and yellow bellies picked out at times
with a splotch of carmine. By the side of these the transparent plums
resembled tender, chlorotic virgins; the greengages and the Orleans
plums paled as with modest innocence, while the mirabelles lay like
golden beads of a rosary forgotten in a box amongst sticks of
vanilla. And the strawberries exhaled a sweet perfume--a perfume of
youth--especially those little ones which are gathered in the woods, and
which are far more aromatic than the large ones grown in gardens,
for these breathe an insipid odour suggestive of the watering-pot.
Raspberries added their fragrance to the pure scent. The currants--red,
white, and black--smiled with a knowing air; whilst the heavy clusters
of grapes, laden with intoxication, lay languorously at the edges
of their wicker baskets, over the sides of which dangled some of the
berries, scorched by the hot caresses of the voluptuous sun.

It was there that La Sarriette lived in an orchard, as it were, in
an atmosphere of sweet, intoxicating scents. The cheaper fruits--the
cherries, plums, and strawberries--were piled up in front of her in
paper-lined baskets, and the juice coming from their bruised ripeness
stained the stall-front, and steamed, with a strong perfume, in the
heat. She would feel quite giddy on those blazing July afternoons when
the melons enveloped her with a powerful, vaporous odour of musk; and
then with her loosened kerchief, fresh as she was with the springtide of
life, she brought sudden temptation to all who saw her. It was she--it
was her arms and necks which gave that semblance of amorous vitality
to her fruit. On the stall next to her an old woman, a hideous old
drunkard, displayed nothing but wrinkled apples, pears as flabby
as herself, and cadaverous apricots of a witch-like sallowness. La
Sarriette's stall, however, spoke of love and passion. The cherries
looked like the red kisses of her bright lips; the silky peaches were
not more delicate than her neck; to the plums she seemed to have lent
the skin from her brow and chin; while some of her own crimson blood
coursed through the veins of the currants. All the scents of the
avenue of flowers behind her stall were but insipid beside the aroma of
vitality which exhaled from her open baskets and falling kerchief.

That day she was quite intoxicated by the scent of a large arrival of
mirabelle plums, which filled the market. She could plainly see that
Mademoiselle Saget had learnt some great piece of news, and she wished
to make her talk. But the old maid stamped impatiently whilst she
repeated: "No, no; I've no time. I'm in a great hurry to see Madame
Lecoeur. I've just learnt something and no mistake. You can come with
me, if you like."

As a matter of fact, she had simply gone through the fruit market for
the purpose of enticing La Sarriette to go with her. The girl could
not refuse temptation. Monsieur Jules, clean-shaven and as fresh as a
cherub, was seated there, swaying to and fro on his chair.

"Just look after the stall for a minute, will you?" La Sarriette said to
him. "I'll be back directly."

Jules, however, got up and called after her, in a thick voice: "Not I;
no fear! I'm off! I'm not going to wait an hour for you, as I did the
other day. And, besides, those cursed plums of yours quite make my head
ache."

Then he calmly strolled off, with his hands in his pockets, and the
stall was left to look after itself. Mademoiselle Saget went so fast
that La Sarriette had to run. In the butter pavilion a neighbour of
Madame Lecoeur's told them that she was below in the cellar; and so,
whilst La Sarriette went down to find her, the old maid installed
herself amidst the cheeses.

The cellar under the butter market is a very gloomy spot. The rows of
storerooms are protected by a very fine wire meshing, as a safeguard
against fire; and the gas jets, which are very few and far between,
glimmer like yellow splotches destitute of radiance in the heavy,
malordorous atmosphere beneath the low vault. Madame Lecoeur, however,
was at work on her butter at one of the tables placed parallel with the
Rue Berger, and here a pale light filtered through the vent-holes. The
tables, which are continually sluiced with a flood of water from the
taps, are as white as though they were quite new. With her back turned
to the pump in the rear, Madame Lecoeur was kneading her butter in a
kind of oak box. She took some of different sorts which lay beside her,
and mixed the varieties together, correcting one by another, just as is
done in the blending of wines. Bent almost double, and showing sharp,
bony shoulders, and arms bared to the elbows, as scraggy and knotted as
pea-rods, she dug her fists into the greasy paste in front of her, which
was assuming a whitish and chalky appearance. It was trying work, and
she heaved a sigh at each fresh effort.

"Mademoiselle Saget wants to speak to you, aunt," said La Sarriette.

Madame Lecoeur stopped her work, and pulled her cap over her hair with
her greasy fingers, seemingly quite careless of staining it. "I've
nearly finished. Ask her to wait a moment," she said.

"She's got something very particular to tell you," continued La
Sarriette.

"I won't be more than a minute, my dear."

Then she again plunged her arms into the butter, which buried them up
to the elbows. Previously softened in warm water, it covered Madame
Lecoeur's parchment-like skin as with an oily film, and threw the big
purple veins that streaked her flesh into strong relief. La Sarriette
was quite disgusted by the sight of those hideous arms working so
frantically amidst the melting mass. However, she could recall the time
when her own pretty little hands had manipulated the butter for whole
afternoons at a time. It had even been a sort of almond-paste to her,
a cosmetic which had kept her skin white and her nails delicately pink;
and even now her slender fingers retained the suppleness it had endowed
them with.

"I don't think that butter of yours will be very good, aunt," she
continued, after a pause. "Some of the sorts seem much too strong."

"I'm quite aware of that," replied Madame Lecoeur, between a couple of
groans. "But what can I do? I must use everything up. There are some
folks who insist upon having butter cheap, and so cheap butter must be
made for them. Oh! it's always quite good enough for those who buy it."

La Sarriette reflected that she would hardly care to eat butter which
had been worked by her aunt's arms. Then she glanced at a little jar
full of a sort of reddish dye. "Your colouring is too pale," she said.

This colouring-matter--"raucourt," as the Parisians call it is used to
give the butter a fine yellow tint. The butter women imagine that
its composition is known only to themselves, and keep it very secret.
However, it is merely made from anotta;[*] though a composition of
carrots and marigold is at times substituted for it.

[*] Anotta, which is obtained from the pulp surrounding the
seeds of the _Bixa Orellana_, is used for a good many
purposes besides the colouring of butter and cheese.



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