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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. These leavings were conveyed to the
market cellars and there sorted. By nine o'clock plates of food were
displayed for sale at prices ranging from three to five sous, their
contents comprising slices of meat, scraps of game, heads and tails of
fishes, bits of galantine, stray vegetables, and, by way of dessert,
cakes scarcely cut into, and other confectionery. Poor starving
wretches, scantily-paid clerks, and women shivering with fever were
to be seen crowding around, and the street lads occasionally amused
themselves by hooting the pale-faced individuals, known to be misers,
who only made their purchases after slyly glancing about them to see
that they were not observed.[*] Mademoiselle Saget wriggled her way to
a stall, the keeper of which boasted that the scraps she sold came
exclusively from the Tuileries. One day, indeed, she had induced the old
maid to buy a slice of leg of mutton by informing that it had come from
the plate of the Emperor himself; and this slice of mutton, eaten with
no little pride, had been a soothing consolation to Mademoiselle Saget's
vanity. The wariness of her approach to the stall was, moreover, solely
caused by her desire to keep well with the neighbouring shop people,
whose premises she was eternally haunting without ever buying anything.
Her usual tactics were to quarrel with them as soon as she had managed
to learn their histories, when she would bestow her patronage upon a
fresh set, desert it in due course, and then gradually make friends
again with those with whom she had quarrelled. In this way she made the
complete circuit of the market neighbourhood, ferreting about in every
shop and stall. Anyone would have imagined that she consumed an enormous
amount of provisions, whereas, in point of fact, she lived solely upon
presents and the few scraps which she was compelled to buy when people
were not in the giving vein.

[*] The dealers in these scraps are called _bijoutiers_, or
jewellers, whilst the scraps themselves are known as
_harlequins_, the idea being that they are of all colours
and shapes when mingled together, thus suggesting
harlequin's variegated attire.--Translator.

On that particular evening there was only a tall old man standing in
front of the stall. He was sniffing at a plate containing a mixture
of meat and fish. Mademoiselle Saget, in her turn, began to sniff at a
plate of cold fried fish. The price of it was three sous, but, by dint
of bargaining, she got it for two. The cold fish then vanished into the
bag. Other customers now arrived, and with a uniform impulse lowered
their noses over the plates. The smell of the stall was very disgusting,
suggestive alike of greasy dishes and a dirty sink.[*]

[*] Particulars of the strange and repulsive trade in
harlequins, which even nowadays is not extinct, will be
found in Privat d'Anglemont's well-known book _Paris
Anecdote_, written at the very period with which M. Zola
deals in the present work. My father, Henry Vizetelly, also
gave some account of it in his _Glances Back through Seventy
Years_, in a chapter describing the odd ways in which
certain Parisians contrive to get a living.--Translator.

"Come and see me to-morrow," the stallkeeper called out to the old maid,
"and I'll put something nice on one side for you. There's going to be a
grand dinner at the Tuileries to-night."

Mademoiselle Saget was just promising to come, when, happening to turn
round, she discovered Gavard looking at her and listening to what she
was saying. She turned very red, and, contracting her skinny shoulders,
hurried away, affecting not to recognise him. Gavard, however, followed
her for a few yards, shrugging his shoulders and muttering to himself
that he was no longer surprised at the old shrew's malice, now he
knew that "she poisoned herself with the filth carted away from the
Tuileries."

On the very next morning vague rumours began to circulate in the
markets. Madame Lecoeur and La Sarriette were in their own fashion
keeping the oaths of silence they had taken. For her own part,
Mademoiselle Saget warily held her tongue, leaving the two others to
circulate the story of Florent's antecedents. At first only a few meagre
details were hawked about in low tones; then various versions of the
facts got into circulation, incidents were exaggerated, and gradually
quite a legend was constructed, in which Florent played the part of a
perfect bogey man. He had killed ten gendarmes at the barricade in the
Rue Greneta, said some; he had returned to France on a pirate ship whose
crew scoured the seas to murder everyone they came across, said others;
whilst a third set declared that ever since his arrival he had been
observed prowling about at nighttime with suspicious-looking characters,
of whom he was undoubtedly the leader. Soon the imaginative market
women indulged in the highest flights of fancy, revelled in the most
melodramatic ideas. There was talk of a band of smugglers plying their
nefarious calling in the very heart of Paris, and of a vast central
association formed for systematically robbing the stalls in the markets.
Much pity was expressed for the Quenu-Gradelles, mingled with malicious
allusions to their uncle's fortune. That fortune was an endless subject
of discussion. The general opinion was that Florent had returned
to claim his share of the treasure; however, as no good reason was
forthcoming to explain why the division had not taken place already, it
was asserted that Florent was waiting for some opportunity which
might enable him to pocket the whole amount. The Quenu-Gradelles would
certainly be found murdered some morning, it was said; and a rumour
spread that dreadful quarrels already took place every night between the
two brothers and beautiful Lisa.

When these stories reached the ears of the beautiful Norman, she
shrugged her shoulders and burst out laughing.

"Get away with you!" she cried, "you don't know him. Why, the dear
fellow's as gentle as a lamb."

She had recently refused the hand of Monsieur Lebigre, who had at last
ventured upon a formal proposal. For two months past he had given the
Mehudins a bottle of some liqueur every Sunday. It was Rose who brought
it, and she was always charged with a compliment for La Normande, some
pretty speech which she faithfully repeated, without appearing in the
slightest degree embarrassed by the peculiar commission. When Monsieur
Lebigre was rejected, he did not pine, but to show that he took no
offence and was still hopeful, he sent Rose on the following Sunday with
two bottles of champagne and a large bunch of flowers. She gave them
into the handsome fish-girl's own hands, repeating, as she did so, the
wine dealer's prose madrigal:

"Monsieur Lebigre begs you to drink this to his health, which has been
greatly shaken by you know what. He hopes that you will one day be
willing to cure him, by being for him as pretty and as sweet as these
flowers."

La Normande was much amused by the servant's delighted air. She kissed
her as she spoke to her of her master, and asked her if he wore braces,
and snored at nights. Then she made her take the champagne and flowers
back with her. "Tell Monsieur Lebigre," said she, "that he's not to send
you here again. It quite vexes me to see you coming here so meekly, with
your bottles under your arms."

"Oh, he wishes me to come," replied Rose, as she went away. "It is wrong
of you to distress him. He is a very handsome man."

La Normande, however, was quite conquered by Florent's affectionate
nature. She continued to follow Muche's lessons of an evening in the
lamplight, indulging the while in a dream of marrying this man who was
so kind to children. She would still keep her fish stall, while he would
doubtless rise to a position of importance in the administrative staff
of the markets. This dream of hers, however, was scarcely furthered by
the tutor's respectful bearing towards her. He bowed to her, and kept
himself at a distance, when she have liked to laugh with him, and love
him as she knew how to love. But it was just this covert resistance
on Florent's part which continually brought her back to the dream of
marrying him. She realised that he lived in a loftier sphere than her
own; and by becoming his wife she imagined that her vanity would reap no
little satisfaction.

She was greatly surprised when she learned the history of the man she
loved. He had never mentioned a word of those things to her; and she
scolded him about it. His extraordinary adventures only increased her
tenderness for him, and for evenings together she made him relate all
that had befallen him. She trembled with fear lest the police should
discover him; but he reassured her, saying that the matter was now too
old for the police to trouble their heads about it. One evening he told
her of the woman on the Boulevard Montmartre, the woman in the pink
bonnet, whose blood had dyed his hands. He still frequently thought of
that poor creature. His anguish-stricken mind had often dwelt upon her
during the clear nights he had passed in Cayenne; and he had returned
to France with a wild dream of meeting her again on some footway in the
bright sunshine, even though he could still feel her corpse-like weight
across his legs. And yet, he thought, she might perhaps have recovered.
At times he received quite a shock while he was walking through the
streets, on fancying that he recognised her; and he followed pink
bonnets and shawl-draped shoulders with a wildly beating heart. When he
closed his eyes he could see her walking, and advancing towards him;
but she let her shawl slip down, showing the two red stains on her
chemisette; and then he saw that her face was pale as wax, and that
her eyes were blank, and her lips distorted by pain. For a long time he
suffered from not knowing her name, from being forced to look upon her
as a mere shadow, whose recollection filled him with sorrow.



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