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"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. It
frequently enters into the composition of chocolate, and is
employed to dye nankeen. Police court proceedings have also
shown that it is well known to the London milkmen, who are
in the habit of adding water to their merchandise.
--Translator.

"Come, do be quick!" La Sarriette now exclaimed, for she was getting
impatient, and was, moreover, no longer accustomed to the malodorous
atmosphere of the cellar. "Mademoiselle Saget will be going. I fancy
she's got something very important to tell you abut my uncle Gavard."

On hearing this, Madame Lecoeur abruptly ceased working. She at once
abandoned both butter and dye, and did not even wait to wipe her arms.
With a slight tap of her hand she settled her cap on her head again, and
made her way up the steps, at her niece's heels, anxiously repeating:
"Do you really think that she'll have gone away?"

She was reassured, however, on catching sight of Mademoiselle Saget
amidst the cheeses. The old maid had taken good care not to go away
before Madame Lecoeur's arrival. The three women seated themselves at
the far end of the stall, crowding closely together, and their faces
almost touching one another. Mademoiselle Saget remained silent for
two long minutes, and then, seeing that the others were burning with
curiosity, she began, in her shrill voice: "You know that Florent! Well,
I can tell you now where he comes from."

For another moment she kept them in suspense; and then, in a deep,
melodramatic voice, she said: "He comes from the galleys!"

The cheeses were reeking around the three women. On the two shelves at
the far end of the stall were huge masses of butter: Brittany butters
overflowing from baskets; Normandy butters, wrapped in canvas, and
resembling models of stomachs over which some sculptor had thrown damp
cloths to keep them from drying; while other great blocks had been cut
into, fashioned into perpendicular rocky masses full of crevasses and
valleys, and resembling fallen mountain crests gilded by the pale sun of
an autumn evening.

Beneath the stall show-table, formed of a slab of red marble veined with
grey, baskets of eggs gleamed with a chalky whiteness; while on layers
of straw in boxes were Bondons, placed end to end, and Gournays,
arranged like medals, forming darker patches tinted with green. But
it was upon the table that the cheeses appeared in greatest profusion.
Here, by the side of the pound-rolls of butter lying on white-beet
leaves, spread a gigantic Cantal cheese, cloven here and there as by an
axe; then came a golden-hued Cheshire, and next a Gruyere, resembling
a wheel fallen from some barbarian chariot; whilst farther on were some
Dutch cheeses, suggesting decapitated heads suffused with dry blood, and
having all that hardness of skulls which in France has gained them
the name of "death's heads." Amidst the heavy exhalations of these, a
Parmesan set a spicy aroma. Then there came three Brie cheeses displayed
on round platters, and looking like melancholy extinct moons. Two of
them, very dry, were at the full; the third, in its second quarter, was
melting away in a white cream, which had spread into a pool and flowed
over the little wooden barriers with which an attempt had been made to
arrest its course. Next came some Port Saluts, similar to antique discs,
with exergues bearing their makers' names in print. A Romantour, in its
tin-foil wrapper, suggested a bar of nougat or some sweet cheese astray
amidst all these pungent, fermenting curds. The Roqueforts under their
glass covers also had a princely air, their fat faces marbled with blue
and yellow, as though they were suffering from some unpleasant malady
such as attacks the wealthy gluttons who eat too many truffles. And on a
dish by the side of these, the hard grey goats' milk cheeses, about the
size of a child's fist, resembled the pebbles which the billy-goats
send rolling down the stony paths as they clamber along ahead of their
flocks. Next came the strong smelling cheeses: the Mont d'Ors, of a
bright yellow hue, and exhaling a comparatively mild odour; the Troyes,
very thick, and bruised at the edges, and of a far more pungent smell,
recalling the dampness of a cellar; the Camemberts, suggestive of high
game; the square Neufchatels, Limbourgs, Marolles, and Pont l'Eveques,
each adding its own particular sharp scent to the malodorous bouquet,
till it became perfectly pestilential; the Livarots, ruddy in hue, and
as irritating to the throat as sulphur fumes; and, lastly, stronger than
all the others, the Olivets, wrapped in walnut leaves, like the carrion
which peasants cover with branches as it lies rotting in the hedgerow
under the blazing sun.

The heat of the afternoon had softened the cheeses; the patches of mould
on their crusts were melting, and glistening with tints of ruddy bronze
and verdigris. Beneath their cover of leaves, the skins of the Olivets
seemed to be heaving as with the slow, deep respiration of a sleeping
man. A Livarot was swarming with life; and in a fragile box behind the
scales a Gerome flavoured with aniseed diffused such a pestilential
smell that all around it the very flies had fallen lifeless on the
gray-veined slap of ruddy marble.

This Gerome was almost immediately under Mademoiselle Saget's nose; so
she drew back, and leaned her head against the big sheets of white and
yellow paper which were hanging in a corner.

"Yes," she repeated, with an expression of disgust, "he comes from the
galleys! Ah, those Quenu-Gradelles have no reason to put on so many
airs!"

Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette, however, had burst into exclamations of
astonishment: "It wasn't possible, surely! What had he done to be sent
to the galleys? Could anyone, now, have ever suspected that Madame
Quenu, whose virtue was the pride of the whole neighbourhood, would
choose a convict for a lover?"

"Ah, but you don't understand at all!" cried the old maid impatiently.
"Just listen, now, while I explain things. I was quite certain that I
had seen that great lanky fellow somewhere before."

Then she proceeded to tell them Florent's story. She had recalled to
mind a vague report which had circulated of a nephew of old Gradelle
being transported to Cayenne for murdering six gendarmes at a barricade.
She had even seen this nephew on one occasion in the Rue Pirouette. The
pretended cousin was undoubtedly the same man. Then she began to bemoan
her waning powers. Her memory was quite going, she said; she would soon
be unable to remember anything. And she bewailed her perishing memory
as bitterly as any learned man might bewail the loss of his notes
representing the work of a life-time, on seeing them swept away by a
gust of wind.

"Six gendarmes!" murmured La Sarriette, admiringly; "he must have a very
heavy fist!"

"And he's made away with plenty of others, as well," added Mademoiselle
Saget. "I shouldn't advise you to meet him at night!"

"What a villain!" stammered out Madame Lecoeur, quite terrified.

The slanting beams of the sinking sun were now enfilading the pavilion,
and the odour of the cheeses became stronger than ever. That of the
Marolles seemed to predominate, borne hither and thither in powerful
whiffs. Then, however, the wind appeared to change, and suddenly the
emanations of the Limbourgs were wafted towards the three women, pungent
and bitter, like the last gasps of a dying man.

"But in that case," resumed Madame Lecoeur, "he must be fat Lisa's
brother-in-law. And we thought that he was her lover!"

The women exchanged glances. This aspect of the case took them by
surprise. They were loth to give up their first theory. However, La
Sarriette, turning to Mademoiselle Saget, remarked: "That must have been
all wrong. Besides, you yourself say that he's always running after the
two Mehudin girls."

"Certainly he is," exclaimed Mademoiselle Saget sharply, fancying that
her word was doubted. "He dangles about them every evening. But, after
all, it's no concern of ours, is it? We are virtuous women, and what he
does makes no difference to us, the horrid scoundrel!"

"No, certainly not," agreed the other two. "He's a consummate villain."

The affair was becoming tragical. Of course beautiful Lisa was now
out of the question, but for this they found ample consolation in
prophesying that Florent would bring about some frightful catastrophe.
It was quite clear, they said, that he had got some base design in
his head. When people like him escaped from gaol it was only to burn
everything down; and if he had come to the markets it must assuredly be
for some abominable purpose. Then they began to indulge in the wildest
suppositions. The two dealers declared that they would put additional
padlocks to the doors of their storerooms; and La Sarriette called
to mind that a basket of peaches had been stolen from her during the
previous week. Mademoiselle Saget, however, quite frightened the two
others by informing them that that was not the way in which the Reds
behaved; they despised such trifles as baskets of peaches; their plan
was to band themselves together in companies of two or three hundred,
kill everybody they came across, and then plunder and pillage at their
ease. That was "politics," she said, with the superior air of one who
knew what she was talking about. Madame Lecoeur felt quite ill. She
already saw Florent and his accomplices hiding in the cellars, and
rushing out during the night to set the markets in flames and sack
Paris.

"Ah! by the way," suddenly exclaimed the old maid, "now I think of it,
there's all that money of old Gradelle's!



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