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The slow regular peals seemed to gradually
dissipate the slumber that yet lingered all around. Carts were still
arriving, and the shouts of the waggoners, the cracking of their whips,
and the grinding of the paving-stones beneath the iron-bound wheels and
the horses' shoes sounded with an increasing din. The carts could now
only advance by a series of spasmodic jolts, and stretched in a long
line, one behind the other, till they were lost to sight in the distant
darkness, whence a confused roar ascended.

Unloading was in progress all along the Rue du Pont Neuf, the vehicles
being drawn up close to the edge of the footways, while their teams
stood motionless in close order as at a horse fair. Florent felt
interested in one enormous tumbrel which was piled up with magnificent
cabbages, and had only been backed to the kerb with the greatest
difficulty. Its load towered above the lofty gas lamp whose bright light
fell full upon the broad leaves which looked like pieces of dark green
velvet, scalloped and goffered. A young peasant girl, some sixteen years
old, in a blue linen jacket and cap, had climbed on to the tumbrel,
where, buried in the cabbages to her shoulders, she took them one by one
and threw them to somebody concealed in the shade below. Every now and
then the girl would slip and vanish, overwhelmed by an avalanche of
the vegetables, but her rosy nose soon reappeared amidst the teeming
greenery, and she broke into a laugh while the cabbages again flew down
between Florent and the gas lamp. He counted them mechanically as they
fell. When the cart was emptied he felt worried.

The piles of vegetables on the pavement now extended to the verge of the
roadway. Between the heaps, the market gardeners left narrow paths to
enable people to pass along. The whole of the wide footway was covered
from end to end with dark mounds. As yet, in the sudden dancing gleams
of light from the lanterns, you only just espied the luxuriant fulness
of the bundles of artichokes, the delicate green of the lettuces, the
rosy coral of the carrots, and dull ivory of the turnips. And these
gleams of rich colour flitted along the heaps, according as the lanterns
came and went. The footway was now becoming populated: a crowd of people
had awakened, and was moving hither and thither amidst the vegetables,
stopping at times, and chattering and shouting. In the distance a loud
voice could be heard crying, "Endive! who's got endive?" The gates of
the pavilion devoted to the sale of ordinary vegetables had just been
opened; and the retail dealers who had stalls there, with white caps on
their heads, fichus knotted over their black jackets, and skirts pinned
up to keep them from getting soiled, now began to secure their stock for
the day, depositing their purchases in some huge porters' baskets placed
upon the ground. Between the roadway and the pavilion these baskets were
to be seen coming and going on all sides, knocking against the
crowded heads of the bystanders, who resented the pushing with coarse
expressions, whilst all around was a clamour of voices growing hoarse
by prolonged wrangling over a sou or two. Florent was astonished by
the calmness of the female market gardeners, with bandanas and bronzed
faces, displayed amidst all this garrulous bargaining of the markets.

Behind him, on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau, fruit was being sold.
Hampers and low baskets covered with canvas or straw stood there in long
lines, a strong odour of over-ripe mirabelle plums was wafted hither and
thither. At last a subdued and gentle voice, which he had heard for some
time past, induced him to turn his head, and he saw a charming darksome
little woman sitting on the ground and bargaining.

"Come now, Marcel," said she, "you'll take a hundred sous, won't you?"

The man to whom she was speaking was closely wrapped in his cloak and
made no reply; however, after a silence of five minutes or more, the
young woman returned to the charge.

"Come now, Marcel; a hundred sous for that basket there, and four francs
for the other one; that'll make nine francs altogether."

Then came another interval.

"Well, tell me what you will take."

"Ten francs. You know that well enough already; I told you so before.
But what have you done with your Jules this morning, La Sarriette?"

The young woman began to laugh as she took a handful of small change out
of her pocket.

"Oh," she replied, "Jules is still in bed. He says that men were not
intended to work."

She paid for the two baskets, and carried them into the fruit pavilion,
which had just been opened. The market buildings still retained their
gloom-wrapped aspect of airy fragility, streaked with the thousand lines
of light that gleamed from the venetian shutters. People were beginning
to pass along the broad covered streets intersecting the pavilions, but
the more distant buildings still remained deserted amidst the increasing
buzz of life on the footways. By Saint Eustache the bakers and wine
sellers were taking down their shutters, and the ruddy shops, with their
gas lights flaring, showed like gaps of fire in the gloom in which the
grey house-fronts were yet steeped. Florent noticed a baker's shop on
the left-hand side of the Rue Montorgueil, replete and golden with its
last baking, and fancied he could scent the pleasant smell of the hot
bread. It was now half past four.

Madame Francois by this time had disposed of nearly all her stock. She
had only a few bunches of carrots left when Lacaille once more made his
appearance with his sack.

"Well," said he, "will you take a sou now?"

"I knew I should see you again," the good woman quietly answered. "You'd
better take all I have left. There are seventeen bunches."

"That makes seventeen sous."

"No; thirty-four."

At last they agreed to fix the price at twenty-five sous. Madame
Francois was anxious to be off.

"He'd been keeping his eye upon me all the time," she said to Florent,
when Lacaille had gone off with the carrots in his sack. "That old rogue
runs things down all over the markets, and he often waits till the last
peal of the bell before spending four sous in purchase. Oh, these Paris
folk! They'll wrangle and argue for an hour to save half a sou, and then
go off and empty their purses at the wine shop."

Whenever Madame Francois talked of Paris she always spoke in a tone of
disdain, and referred to the city as though it were some ridiculous,
contemptible, far-away place, in which she only condescended to set foot
at nighttime.

"There!" she continued, sitting down again, beside Florent, on some
vegetables belonging to a neighbour, "I can get away now."

Florent bent his head. He had just committed a theft. When Lacaille
went off he had caught sight of a carrot lying on the ground, and having
picked it up he was holding it tightly in his right hand. Behind him
were some bundles of celery and bunches of parsley were diffusing
pungent odours which painfully affected him.

"Well, I'm off now!" said Madame Francois.

However, she felt interested in this stranger, and could divine that
he was suffering there on that foot-pavement, from which he had never
stirred. She made him fresh offers of assistance, but he again refused
them, with a still more bitter show of pride. He even got up and
remained standing to prove that he was quite strong again. Then, as
Madame Francois turned her head away, he put the carrot to his mouth.
But he had to remove it for a moment, in spite of the terrible longing
which he felt to dig his teeth into it; for Madame Francois turned round
again and looking him full in the face, began to question him with
her good-natured womanly curiosity. Florent, to avoid speaking, merely
answered by nods and shakes of the head. Then, slowly and gently, he
began to eat the carrot.

The worthy woman was at last on the point of going off, when a powerful
voice exclaimed close beside her, "Good morning, Madame Francois."

The speaker was a slim young man, with big bones and a big head. His
face was bearded, and he had a very delicate nose and narrow sparkling
eyes. He wore on his head a rusty, battered, black felt hat, and was
buttoned up in an immense overcoat, which had once been of a soft
chestnut hue, but which rain had discoloured and streaked with
long greenish stains. Somewhat bent, and quivering with a nervous
restlessness which was doubtless habitual with him, he stood there in a
pair of heavy laced shoes, and the shortness of his trousers allowed a
glimpse of his coarse blue hose.

"Good morning, Monsieur Claude," the market gardener replied cheerfully.
"I expected you, you know, last Monday, and, as you didn't come, I've
taken care of your canvas for you. I've hung it up on a nail in my
room."

"You are really very kind, Madame Francois. I'll go to finish that study
of mine one of these days. I wasn't able to go on Monday. Has your big
plum tree still got all its leaves?"

"Yes, indeed."

"I wanted to know, because I mean to put it in a corner of the picture.
It will come in nicely by the side of the fowl house. I have been
thinking about it all the week. What lovely vegetables are in the market
this morning! I came down very early, expecting a fine sunrise effect
upon all these heaps of cabbages."

With a wave of the arm he indicated the footway.

"Well, well, I must be off now," said Madame Francois. "Good-bye for the
present. We shall meet again soon, I hope, Monsieur Claude."

However, as she turned to go, she introduced Florent to the young
artist.

"This gentleman, it seems, has just come from a distance," said she.
"He feels quite lost in your scampish Paris. I dare say you might be of
service to him."

Then she at last took her departure, feeling pleased at having left the
two men together. Claude looked at Florent with a feeling of interest.
That tall, slight, wavy figure seemed to him original. Madame Francois's
hasty presentation was in his eyes quite sufficient, and he addressed
Florent with the easy familiarity of a lounger accustomed to all sorts
of chance encounters.

"I'll accompany you," he said; "which way are you going?"

Florent felt ill at ease; he was not wont to unbosom himself so readily.
However, ever since his arrival in Paris, a question had been trembling
on his lips, and now he ventured to ask it, with the evident fear of
receiving an unfavourable reply.

"Is the Rue Pirouette still in existence?"

"Oh, yes," answered the artist.



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