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Dear me, dear me, those Quenus
can't be at all at their ease!"

She now looked quite gay again. The conversation took a fresh turn, and
the others fell foul of the Quenus when Mademoiselle Saget had told them
the history of the treasure discovered in the salting-tub, with every
particular of which she was acquainted. She was even able to inform
them of the exact amount of the money found--eighty-five thousand
francs--though neither Lisa nor Quenu was aware of having revealed this
to a living soul. However, it was clear that the Quenus had not given
the great lanky fellow his share. He was too shabbily dressed for
that. Perhaps he had never even heard of the discovery of the treasure.
Plainly enough, they were all thieves in his family. Then the three
women bent their heads together and spoke in lower tones. They were
unanimously of opinion that it might perhaps be dangerous to attack the
beautiful Lisa, but it was decidedly necessary that they should settle
the Red Republican's hash, so that he might no longer prey upon the
purse of poor Monsieur Gavard.

At the mention of Gavard there came a pause. The gossips looked at
each other with a circumspect air. And then, as they drew breath, they
inhaled the odour of the Camemberts, whose gamy scent had overpowered
the less penetrating emanations of the Marolles and the Limbourgs, and
spread around with remarkable power. Every now and then, however, a
slight whiff, a flutelike note, came from the Parmesan, while the Bries
contributed a soft, musty scent, the gentle, insipid sound, as it were,
of damp tambourines. Next followed an overpowering refrain from the
Livarots, and afterwards the Gerome, flavoured with aniseed, kept up the
symphony with a high prolonged note, like that of a vocalist during a
pause in the accompaniment.

"I have seen Madame Leonce," Mademoiselle Saget at last continued, with
a significant expression.

At this the two others became extremely attentive. Madame Leonce was the
doorkeeper of the house where Gavard lived in the Rue de la Cossonnerie.
It was an old house standing back, with its ground floor occupied by an
importer of oranges and lemons, who had had the frontage coloured blue
as high as the first floor. Madame Leonce acted as Gavard's housekeeper,
kept the keys of his cupboards and closets, and brought him up tisane
when he happened to catch cold. She was a severe-looking woman, between
fifty and sixty years of age, and spoke slowly, but at endless length.
Mademoiselle Saget, who went to drink coffee with her every Wednesday
evening, had cultivated her friendship more closely than ever since the
poultry dealer had gone to lodge in the house. They would talk about
the worthy man for hours at a time. They both professed the greatest
affection for him, and a keen desire to ensure his comfort and
happiness.

"Yes, I have seen Madame Leonce," repeated the old maid. "We had a cup
of coffee together last night. She was greatly worried. It seems that
Monsieur Gavard never comes home now before one o'clock in the morning.
Last Sunday she took him up some broth, as she thought he looked quite
ill."

"Oh, she knows very well what she's about," exclaimed Madame Lecoeur,
whom these attentions to Gavard somewhat alarmed.

Mademoiselle Saget felt bound to defend her friend. "Oh, really, you are
quite mistaken," said she. "Madame Leonce is much above her position;
she is quite a lady. If she wanted to enrich herself at Monsieur
Gavard's expense, she might easily have done so long ago. It seems that
he leaves everything lying about in the most careless fashion. It's
about that, indeed, that I want to speak to you. But you'll not repeat
anything I say, will you? I am telling it you in strict confidence."

Both the others swore that they would never breathe a word of what they
might hear; and they craned out their necks with eager curiosity, whilst
the old maid solemnly resumed: "Well, then, Monsieur Gavard has been
behaving very strangely of late. He has been buying firearms--a great
big pistol--one of those which revolve, you know. Madame Leonce says
that things are awful, for this pistol is always lying about on the
table or the mantelpiece; and she daren't dust anywhere near it. But
that isn't all. His money--"

"His money!" echoed Madame Lecoeur, with blazing cheeks.

"Well, he's disposed of all his stocks and shares. He's sold everything,
and keeps a great heap of gold in a cupboard."

"A heap of gold!" exclaimed La Sarriette in ecstasy.

"Yes, a great heap of gold. It covers a whole shelf, and is quite
dazzling. Madame Leonce told me that one morning Gavard opened the
cupboard in her presence, and that the money quite blinded her, it shone
so."

There was another pause. The eyes of the three women were blinking as
though the dazzling pile of gold was before them. Presently La Sarriette
began to laugh.

"What a jolly time I would have with Jules if my uncle would give that
money to me!" said she.

Madame Lecoeur, however, seemed quite overwhelmed by this revelation,
crushed beneath the weight of the gold which she could not banish from
her sight. Covetous envy thrilled her. But at last, raising her skinny
arms and shrivelled hands, her finger-nails still stuffed with butter,
she stammered in a voice full of bitter distress: "Oh, I mustn't think
of it! It's too dreadful!"

"Well, it would all be yours, you know, if anything were to happen to
Monsieur Gavard," retorted Mademoiselle Saget. "If I were in your place,
I would look after my interests. That revolver means nothing good,
you may depend upon it. Monsieur Gavard has got into the hands of evil
counsellors; and I'm afraid it will all end badly."

Then the conversation again turned upon Florent. The three women
assailed him more violently than ever. And afterwards, with perfect
composure, they began to discuss what would be the result of all these
dark goings-on so far as he and Gavard were concerned; certainly it
would be no pleasant one if there was any gossiping. And thereupon they
swore that they themselves would never repeat a word of what they knew;
not, however, because that scoundrel Florent merited any consideration,
but because it was necessary, at all costs, to save that worthy Monsieur
Gavard from being compromised. Then they rose from their seats, and
Mademoiselle Saget was burning as if to go away when the butter dealer
asked her: "All the same, in case of accident, do you think that Madame
Leonce can be trusted? I dare say she has the key of the cupboard."

"Well, that's more than I can tell you," replied the old maid. "I
believe she's a very honest woman; but, after all, there's no telling.
There are circumstances, you know, which tempt the best of people.
Anyhow, I've warned you both; and you must do what you think proper."

As the three women stood there, taking leave of each other, the odour
of the cheeses seemed to become more pestilential than ever. It was a
cacophony of smells, ranging from the heavily oppressive odour of the
Dutch cheeses and the Gruyeres to the alkaline pungency of the Olivets.
From the Cantal, the Cheshire, and the goats' milk cheeses there seemed
to come a deep breath like the sound of a bassoon, amidst which the
sharp, sudden whiffs of the Neufchatels, the Troyes, and the Mont
d'Ors contributed short, detached notes. And then the different odours
appeared to mingle one with another, the reek of the Limbourgs, the Port
Saluts, the Geromes, the Marolles, the Livarots, and the Pont l'Eveques
uniting in one general, overpowering stench sufficient to provoke
asphyxia. And yet it almost seemed as though it were not the cheeses but
the vile words of Madame Lecoeur and Mademoiselle Saget that diffused
this awful odour.

"I'm very much obliged to you, indeed I am," said the butter dealer. "If
ever I get rich, you shall not find yourself forgotten."

The old maid still lingered in the stall. Taking up a Bondon, she turned
it round, and put it down on the slab again. Then she asked its price.

"To me!" she added, with a smile.

"Oh, nothing to you," replied Madame Lecoeur. "I'll make you a present
of it." And again she exclaimed: "Ah, if I were only rich!"

Mademoiselle Saget thereupon told her that some day or other she would
be rich. The Bondon had already disappeared within the old maid's bag.
And now the butter dealer returned to the cellar, while Mademoiselle
Saget escorted La Sarriette back to her stall. On reaching it they
talked for a moment or two about Monsieur Jules. The fruits around them
diffused a fresh scent of summer.

"It smells much nicer here than at your aunt's," said the old maid. "I
felt quite ill a little time ago. I can't think how she manages to exist
there. But here it's very sweet and pleasant. It makes you look quite
rosy, my dear."

La Sarriette began to laugh, for she was fond of compliments. Then she
served a lady with a pound of mirabelle plums, telling her that they
were as sweet as sugar.

"I should like to buy some of those mirabelles too," murmured
Mademoiselle Saget, when the lady had gone away; "only I want so few. A
lone woman, you know."

"Take a handful of them," exclaimed the pretty brunette. "That won't
ruin me. Send Jules back to me if you see him, will you? You'll most
likely find him smoking his cigar on the first bench to the right as you
turn out of the covered way."

Mademoiselle Saget distended her fingers as widely as possible in order
to take a handful of mirabelles, which joined the Bondon in the bag.
Then she pretended to leave the market, but in reality made a detour by
one of the covered ways, thinking, as she walked slowly along, that the
mirabelles and Bondon would not make a very substantial dinner. When she
was unable, during her afternoon perambulations, to wheedle stallkeepers
into filling her bag for her, she was reduced to dining off the merest
scraps. So she now slyly made her way back to the butter pavilions,
where, on the side of the Rue Berger, at the back of the offices of the
oyster salesmen, there were some stalls at which cooked meat was
sold. Every morning little closed box-like carts, lined with zinc and
furnished with ventilators, drew up in front of the larger Parisian
kitchens and carried away the leavings of the restaurants, the
embassies, and State Ministries.



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