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It would be nothing short of a misfortune if he were to
succeed, for, with his visionary social sentimentalities, he would crush
us down beneath his confounded working men! It's all that, you know,
which ruins the party. We don't need any more tearful sentimentalists,
humanitarian poets, people who kiss and slobber over each other for the
merest scratch. But he won't succeed! He'll just get locked up, and that
will be the end of it."

Logre and the wine dealer made no remark, but allowed Charvet to talk on
without interruption.

"And he'd have been locked up long ago," he continued, "if he were
anything as dangerous as he fancies he is. The airs he puts on just
because he's been to Cayenne are quite sickening. But I'm sure that the
police knew of his return the very first day he set foot in Paris, and
if they haven't interfered with him it's simply because they hold him in
contempt."

At this Logre gave a slight start.

"They've been dogging me for the last fifteen years," resumed the
Hebertist, with a touch of pride, "but you don't hear me proclaiming it
from the house-tops. However, he won't catch me taking part in his riot.
I'm not going to let myself be nabbed like a mere fool. I dare say he's
already got half a dozen spies at his heels, who will take him by the
scruff of the neck whenever the authorities give the word."

"Oh, dear, no! What an idea!" exclaimed Monsieur Lebigre, who usually
observed complete silence. He was rather pale, and looked at Logre, who
was gently rubbing his hump against the partition.

"That's mere imagination," murmured the hunchback.

"Very well; call it imagination, if you like," replied the tutor; "but
I know how these things are arranged. At all events, I don't mean to
let the 'coppers' nab me this time. You others, of course, will please
yourselves, but if you take my advice--and you especially, Monsieur
Lebigre--you'll take care not to let your establishment be compromised,
or the authorities will close it."

At this Logre could not restrain a smile. On several subsequent
occasions Charvet plied him and Lebigre with similar arguments, as
though he wished to detach them from Florent's project by frightening
them; and he was much surprised at the calmness and confidence which
they both continued to manifest. For his own part, he still came pretty
regularly in the evening with Clemence. The tall brunette was no longer
a clerk at the fish auctions--Monsieur Manoury had discharged her.

"Those salesmen are all scoundrels!" Logre growled, when he heard of her
dismissal.

Thereupon Clemence, who, lolling back against the partition, was rolling
a cigarette between her long, slim fingers, replied in a sharp voice:
"Oh, it's fair fighting! We don't hold the same political views, you
know. That fellow Manoury, who's making no end of money, would lick the
Emperor's boots. For my part, if I were an auctioneer, I wouldn't keep
him in my service for an hour."

The truth was that she had been indulging in some clumsy pleasantry,
amusing herself one day by inscribing in the sale-book, alongside of the
dabs and skate and mackerel sold by auction, the names of some of the
best-known ladies and gentlemen of the Court. This bestowal of piscine
names upon high dignitaries, these entries of the sale of duchesses
and baronesses at thirty sous apiece, had caused Monsieur Manoury much
alarm. Gavard was still laughing over it.

"Well, never mind!" said he, patting Clemence's arm; "you are every inch
a man, you are!"

Clemence had discovered a new method of mixing her grog. She began by
filling her glass with hot water; and after adding some sugar she poured
the rum drop by drop upon the slice of lemon floating on the surface,
in such wise that it did not mix with the water. Then she lighted it and
with a grave expression watched it blaze, slowly smoking her cigarette
while the flame of the alcohol cast a greenish tinge over her face.
"Grog," however, was an expensive luxury in which she could not afford
to indulge after she had lost her place. Charvet told her, with a
strained laugh, that she was no longer a millionaire. She supported
herself by giving French lessons, at a very early hour in the morning,
to a young lady residing in the Rue de Miromesnil, who was perfecting
her education in secrecy, unknown even to her maid. And so now Clemence
merely ordered a glass of beer in the evenings, but this she drank, it
must be admitted, with the most philosophical composure.

The evenings in the little sanctum were now far less noisy than they had
been. Charvet would suddenly lapse into silence, pale with suppressed
rage, when the others deserted him to listen to his rival. The thought
that he had been the king of the place, had ruled the whole party with
despotic power before Florent's appearance there, gnawed at his heart,
and he felt all the regretful pangs of a dethroned monarch. If he
still came to the meetings, it was only because he could not resist the
attraction of the little room where he had spent so many happy hours in
tyrannising over Gavard and Robine. In those days even Logre's hump had
been his property, as well as Alexandre's fleshy arms and Lacaille's
gloomy face. He had done what he liked with them, stuffed his opinions
down their throats, belaboured their shoulders with his sceptre. But
now he endured much bitterness of spirit; and ended by quite ceasing
to speak, simply shrugging his shoulders and whistling disdainfully,
without condescending to combat the absurdities vented in his presence.
What exasperated him more than anything else was the gradual way in
which he had been ousted from his position of predominance without
being conscious of it. He could not see that Florent was in any way his
superior, and after hearing the latter speak for hours, in his gentle
and somewhat sad voice, he often remarked: "Why, the fellow's a parson!
He only wants a cassock!"

The others, however, to all appearance eagerly absorbed whatever the
inspector said. When Charvet saw Florent's clothes hanging from every
peg, he pretended not to know where he could put his hat so that it
would not be soiled. He swept away the papers that lay about the little
room, declaring that there was no longer any comfort for anyone in
the place since that "gentleman" had taken possession of it. He even
complained to the landlord, and asked if the room belonged to a single
customer or to the whole company. This invasion of his realm was indeed
the last straw. Men were brutes, and he conceived an unspeakable scorn
for humanity when he saw Logre and Monsieur Lebigre fixing their eyes on
Florent with rapt attention. Gavard with his revolver irritated him, and
Robine, who sat silent behind his glass of beer, seemed to him to be the
only sensible person in the company, and one who doubtless judged
people by their real value, and was not led away by mere words. As
for Alexandre and Lacaille, they confirmed him in his belief that
"the people" were mere fools, and would require at least ten years of
revolutionary dictatorship to learn how to conduct themselves.

Logre, however, declared that the sections would soon be completely
organised; and Florent began to assign the different parts that each
would have to play. One evening, after a final discussion in which he
again got worsted, Charvet rose up, took his hat, and exclaimed: "Well,
I'll wish you all good night. You can get your skulls cracked if it
amuses you; but I would have you understand that I won't take any part
in the business. I have never abetted anybody's ambition."

Clemence, who had also risen and was putting on her shawl, coldly added:
"The plan's absurd."

Then, as Robine sat watching their departure with a gentle glance,
Charvet asked him if he were not coming with them; but Robine, having
still some beer left in his glass, contented himself with shaking hands.
Charvet and Clemence never returned again; and Lacaille one day informed
the company that they now frequented a beer-house in the Rue Serpente.
He had seen them through the window, gesticulating with great energy, in
the midst of an attentive group of very young men.

Florent was never able to enlist Claude amongst his supporters. He
had once entertained the idea of gaining him over to his own political
views, of making a disciple of him, an assistant in his revolutionary
task; and in order to initiate him he had taken him one evening to
Monsieur Lebigre's. Claude, however, spent the whole time in making
a sketch of Robine, in his hat and chestnut cloak, and with his beard
resting on the knob of his walking-stick.

"Really, you know," he said to Florent, as they came away, "all that you
have been saying inside there doesn't interest me in the least. It may
be very clever, but, for my own part, I see nothing in it. Still, you've
got a splendid fellow there, that blessed Robine. He's as deep as a
well. I'll come with you again some other time, but it won't be for
politics. I shall make sketches of Logre and Gavard, so as to put them
with Robine in a picture which I was thinking about while you were
discussing the question of--what do you call it? eh? Oh, the question
of the two Chambers. Just fancy, now, a picture of Gavard and Logre and
Robine talking politics, entrenched behind their glasses of beer! It
would be the success of the Salon, my dear fellow, an overwhelming
success, a genuine modern picture!"

Florent was grieved by the artist's political scepticism; so he took him
up to his bedroom, and kept him on the narrow balcony in front of the
bluish mass of the markets, till two o'clock in the morning, lecturing
him, and telling him that he was no man to show himself so indifferent
to the happiness of his country.

"Well, you're perhaps right," replied Claude, shaking his head; "I'm an
egotist. I can't even say that I paint for the good of my country; for,
in the first place, my sketches frighten everybody, and then, when I'm
busy painting, I think about nothing but the pleasure I take in it. When
I'm painting, it is as though I were tickling myself; it makes me laugh
all over my body.



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