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When
I'm painting, it is as though I were tickling myself; it makes me laugh
all over my body. Well, I can't help it, you know; it's my nature to
be like that; and you can't expect me to go and drown myself in
consequence. Besides, France can get on very well without me, as my
aunt Lisa says. And--may I be quite frank with you?--if I like you it's
because you seem to me to follow politics just as I follow painting. You
titillate yourself, my good friend."

Then, as Florent protested, he continued:

"Yes, yes; you are an artist in your own way; you dream of politics,
and I'll wager you spend hours here at night gazing at the stars and
imagining they are the voting-papers of infinity. And then you titillate
yourself with your ideas of truth and justice; and this is so evidently
the case that those ideas of yours cause just as much alarm to
commonplace middle-class folks as my sketches do. Between ourselves,
now, do you imagine that if you were Robine I should take any pleasure
in your friendship? Ah, no, my friend, you are a great poet!"

Then he began to joke on the subject, saying that politics caused him no
trouble, and that he had got accustomed to hear people discussing them
in beer shops and studios. This led him to speak of a cafe in the
Rue Vauvilliers; the cafe on the ground-floor of the house where La
Sarriette lodged. This smoky place, with its torn, velvet-cushioned
seats, and marble table-tops discoloured by the drippings from
coffee-cups, was the chief resort of the young people of the markets.
Monsieur Jules reigned there over a company of porters, apprentices,
and gentlemen in white blouses and velvet caps. Two curling "Newgate
knockers" were glued against his temples; and to keep his neck white he
had it scraped with a razor every Saturday at a hair-dresser's in the
Rue des Deux Ecus. At the cafe he gave the tone to his associates,
especially when he played billiards with studied airs and graces,
showing off his figure to the best advantage. After the game the company
would begin to chat. They were a very reactionary set, taking a delight
in the doings of "society." For his part, Monsieur Jules read the
lighter boulevardian newspapers, and knew the performers at the smaller
theatres, talked familiarly of the celebrities of the day, and could
always tell whether the piece first performed the previous evening had
been a success or a failure. He had a weakness, however, for politics.
His ideal man was Morny, as he curtly called him. He read the reports of
the discussions of the Corps Legislatif, and laughed with glee over the
slightest words that fell from Morny's lips. Ah, Morny was the man to
sit upon your rascally republicans! And he would assert that only the
scum detested the Emperor, for his Majesty desired that all respectable
people should have a good time of it.

"I've been to the cafe occasionally," Claude said to Florent. "The young
men there are vastly amusing, with their clay pipes and their talk about
the Court balls! To hear them chatter you might almost fancy they were
invited to the Tuileries. La Sarriette's young man was making great fun
of Gavard the other evening. He called him uncle. When La Sarriette came
downstairs to look for him she was obliged to pay his bill. It cost her
six francs, for he had lost at billiards, and the drinks they had played
for were owing. And now, good night, my friend, and pleasant dreams. If
ever you become a Minister, I'll give you some hints on the beautifying
of Paris."

Florent was obliged to relinquish the hope of making a docile disciple
of Claude. This was a source of grief to him, for, blinded though he
was by his fanatical ardour, he at last grew conscious of the
ever-increasing hostility which surrounded him. Even at the Mehudins' he
now met with a colder reception: the old woman would laugh slyly; Muche
no longer obeyed him, and the beautiful Norman cast glances of hasty
impatience at him, unable as she was to overcome his coldness. At the
Quenus', too, he had lost Auguste's friendship. The assistant no longer
came to see him in his room on the way to bed, being greatly alarmed
by the reports which he heard concerning this man with whom he had
previously shut himself up till midnight. Augustine had made her lover
swear that he would never again be guilty of such imprudence; however,
it was Lisa who turned the young man into Florent's determined enemy by
begging him and Augustine to defer their marriage till her cousin should
vacate the little bedroom at the top of the house, as she did not want
to give that poky dressing-room on the first floor to the new shop
girl whom she would have to engage. From that time forward Auguste was
anxious that the "convict" should be arrested. He had found such a
pork shop as he had long dreamed of, not at Plaisance certainly, but at
Montrouge, a little farther away. And now trade had much improved, and
Augustine, with her silly, overgrown girl's laugh, said that she was
quite ready. So every night, whenever some slight noise awoke him,
August was thrilled with delight as he imagined that the police were at
last arresting Florent.

Nothing was said at the Quenu-Gradelles' about all the rumours which
circulated. There was a tacit understanding amongst the staff of the
pork shop to keep silent respecting them in the presence of Quenu. The
latter, somewhat saddened by the falling-out between his brother and his
wife, sought consolation in stringing his sausages and salting his pork.
Sometimes he would come and stand on his door-step, with his red face
glowing brightly above his white apron, which his increasing corpulence
stretched quite taut, and never did he suspect all the gossip which his
appearance set on foot in the markets. Some of the women pitied him, and
thought that he was losing flesh, though he was, indeed, stouter than
ever; while others, on the contrary, reproached him for not having grown
thin with shame at having such a brother as Florent. He, however, like
one of those betrayed husbands who are always the last to know what
has befallen them, continued in happy ignorance, displaying a
light-heartedness which was quite affecting. He would stop some
neighbour's wife on the footway to ask her if she found his brawn or
truffled boar's head to her liking, and she would at once assume a
sympathetic expression, and speak in a condoling way, as though all the
pork on his premises had got jaundice.

"What do they all mean by looking at me with such a funereal air?" he
asked Lisa one day. "Do you think I'm looking ill?"

Lisa, well aware that he was terribly afraid of illness, and groaned
and made a dreadful disturbance if he suffered the slightest ailment,
reassured him on this point, telling him that he was as blooming as
a rose. The fine pork shop, however, was becoming gloomy; the mirrors
seemed to pale, the marbles grew frigidly white, and the cooked meats on
the counter stagnated in yellow fat or lakes of cloudy jelly. One day,
even, Claude came into the shop to tell his aunt that the display in
the window looked quite "in the dumps." This was really the truth. The
Strasburg tongues on their beds of blue paper-shavings had a melancholy
whiteness of hue, like the tongues of invalids; and the whilom chubby
hams seemed to be wasting away beneath their mournful green top-knots.
Inside the shop, too, when customers asked for a black-pudding or ten
sous' worth of bacon, or half a pound of lard, they spoke in subdued,
sorrowful voices, as though they were in the bed-chamber of a dying man.
There were always two or three lachrymose women in front of the chilled
heating-pan. Beautiful Lisa meantime discharged the duties of chief
mourner with silent dignity. Her white apron fell more primly than ever
over her black dress. Her hands, scrupulously clean and closely girded
at the wrists by long white sleevelets, her face with its becoming air
of sadness, plainly told all the neighbourhood, all the inquisitive
gossips who streamed into the shop from morning to night, that they, the
Quenu-Gradelles, were suffering from unmerited misfortune, but that she
knew the cause of it, and would triumph over it at last. And sometimes
she stooped to look at the two gold-fish, who also seemed ill at ease
as they swam languidly around the aquarium in the window, and her glance
seemed to promise them better days in the future.

Beautiful Lisa now only allowed herself one indulgence. She fearlessly
patted Marjolin's satiny chin. The young man had just come out of the
hospital. His skull had healed, and he looked as fat and merry as ever;
but even the little intelligence he had possessed had left him, he was
now quite an idiot. The gash in his skull must have reached his brain,
for he had become a mere animal. The mind of a child of five dwelt in
his sturdy frame. He laughed and stammered, he could no longer pronounce
his words properly, and he was as submissively obedient as a sheep.
Cadine took entire possession of him again; surprised, at first, at the
alteration in him, and then quite delighted at having this big fellow to
do exactly as she liked with. He was her doll, her toy, her slave in
all respects but one: she could not prevent him from going off to Madame
Quenu's every now and then. She thumped him, but he did not seem to feel
her blows; as soon as she had slung her basket round her neck, and set
off to sell her violets in the Rue du Pont Neuf and the Rue de Turbigo,
he went to prowl about in front of the pork shop.

"Come in!" Lisa cried to him.

She generally gave him some gherkins, of which he was extremely fond;
and he ate them, laughing in a childish way, whilst he stood in front of
the counter. The sight of the handsome mistress of the shop filled him
with rapture; he often clapped his hands with joy and began to jump
about and vent little cries of pleasure, like a child delighted at
something shown to it. On the first few occasions when he came to see
her after leaving the hospital Lisa had feared that he might remember
what had happened.

"Does your head still hurt you?" she asked him.

But he swayed about and burst into a merry laugh as he answered no; and
then Lisa gently inquired: "You had a fall, hadn't you?"

"Yes, a fall, fall, fall," he sang, in a happy voice, tapping his skull
the while.

Then, as though he were in a sort of ecstasy, he continued in lingering
notes, as he gazed at Lisa, "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!" This
quite touched Madame Quenu.



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