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She had prevailed upon Gavard to keep him
in his service. It was on the occasions when he so humbly vented his
admiration that she caressed his chin, and told him that he was a good
lad. He smiled with childish satisfaction, at times closing his eyes
like some domestic pet fondled by its mistress; and Lisa thought to
herself that she was making him some compensation for the blow with
which she had felled him in the cellar of the poultry market.

However, the Quenus' establishment still remained under a cloud. Florent
sometimes ventured to show himself, and shook hands with his brother,
while Lisa observed a frigid silence. He even dined with them sometimes
on Sundays, at long intervals, and Quenu then made great efforts at
gaiety, but could not succeed in imparting any cheerfulness to the meal.
He ate badly, and ended by feeling altogether put out. One evening,
after one of these icy family gatherings, he said to his wife with tears
in his eyes:

"What can be the matter with me? Is it true that I'm not ill? Don't you
really see anything wrong in my appearance? I feel just as though I'd
got a heavy weight somewhere inside me. And I'm so sad and depressed,
too, without in the least knowing why. What can it be, do you think?"

"Oh, a little attack of indigestion, I dare say," replied Lisa.

"No, no; it's been going on too long for that; I feel quite crushed
down. Yet the business is going on all right; I've no great worries, and
I am leading just the same steady life as ever. But you, too, my dear,
don't look well; you seem melancholy. If there isn't a change for the
better soon, I shall send for the doctor."

Lisa looked at him with a grave expression.

"There's no need of a doctor," she said, "things will soon be all right
again. There's something unhealthy in the atmosphere just now. All the
neighbourhood is unwell." Then, as if yielding to an impulse of anxious
affection, she added: "Don't worry yourself, my dear. I can't have you
falling ill; that would be the crowning blow."

As a rule she sent him back to the kitchen, knowing that the noise of
the choppers, the tuneful simmering of the fat, and the bubbling of the
pans had a cheering effect upon him. In this way, too, she kept him at
a distance from the indiscreet chatter of Mademoiselle Saget, who now
spent whole mornings in the shop. The old maid seemed bent on arousing
Lisa's alarm, and thus driving her to some extreme step. She began by
trying to obtain her confidence.

"What a lot of mischievous folks there are about!" she exclaimed; "folks
who would be much better employed in minding their own business. If you
only knew, my dear Madame Quenu--but no, really, I should never dare to
repeat such things to you."

And, as Madame Quenu replied that she was quite indifferent to gossip,
and that it had no effect upon her, the old maid whispered into her ear
across the counter: "Well, people say, you know, that Monsieur Florent
isn't your cousin at all."

Then she gradually allowed Lisa to see that she knew the whole story; by
way of proving that she had her quite at her mercy. When Lisa confessed
the truth, equally as a matter of diplomacy, in order that she might
have the assistance of some one who would keep her well posted in all
the gossip of the neighbourhood, the old maid swore that for her own
part she would be as mute as a fish, and deny the truth of the reports
about Florent, even if she were to be led to the stake for it. And
afterwards this drama brought her intense enjoyment; every morning she
came to the shop with some fresh piece of disturbing news.

"You must be careful," she whispered one day; "I have just heard two
women in the tripe market talking about you know what. I can't interrupt
people and tell them they are lying, you know. It would look so strange.
But the story's got about, and it's spreading farther every day. It
can't be stopped now, I fear; the truth will have to come out."

A few days later she returned to the assault in all earnest. She made
her appearance looking quite scared, and waited impatiently till there
was no one in the shop, when she burst out in her sibilant voice:

"Do you know what people are saying now? Well, they say that all those
men who meet at Monsieur Lebigre's have got guns, and are going to
break out again as they did in '48. It's quite distressing to see such
a worthy man as Monsieur Gavard--rich, too, and so respectable--leaguing
himself with such scoundrels! I was very anxious to let you know, on
account of your brother-in-law."

"Oh, it's mere nonsense, I'm sure; it can't be serious," rejoined Lisa,
just to incite the old maid to tell her more.

"Not serious, indeed! Why, when one passes along the Rue Pirouette in
the evening one can hear them screaming out in the most dreadful way.
Oh! they make no mystery of it all. You know yourself how they tried to
corrupt your husband. And the cartridges which I have seen them making
from my own window, are they mere nonsense? Well, well, I'm only telling
you this for your own good."

"Oh! I'm sure of that, and I'm very much obliged to you," replied Lisa;
"but people do invent such stories, you know."

"Ah, but this is no invention, unfortunately. The whole neighbourhood is
talking of it. It is said, too, that if the police discover the matter
there will be a great many people compromised--Monsieur Gavard, for
instance."

Madame Quenu shrugged her shoulders as though to say that Monsieur
Gavard was an old fool, and that it would do him good to be locked up.

"Well, I merely mention Monsieur Gavard as I might mention any of the
others, your brother-in-law, for instance," resumed the old maid with a
wily glance. "Your brother-in-law is the leader, it seems. That's very
annoying for you, and I'm very sorry indeed; for if the police were to
make a descent here they might march Monsieur Quenu off as well. Two
brothers, you know, they're like two fingers of the same hand."

Beautiful Lisa protested against this, but she turned very pale, for
Mademoiselle Saget's last thrust had touched a vulnerable point. From
that day forward the old maid was ever bringing her stories of innocent
people who had been thrown into prison for extending hospitality to
criminal scoundrels. In the evening, when La Saget went to get her
black-currant syrup at the wine dealer's, she prepared her budget for
the next morning. Rose was but little given to gossiping, and the old
main reckoned chiefly on her own eyes and ears. She had been struck by
Monsieur Lebigre's extremely kind and obliging manner towards Florent,
his eagerness to keep him at his establishment, all the polite
civilities, for which the little money which the other spent in the
house could never recoup him. And this conduct of Monsieur Lebigre's
surprised her the more as she was aware of the position in which the two
men stood in respect to the beautiful Norman.

"It looks as though Lebigre were fattening him up for sale," she
reflected. "Whom can he want to sell him to, I wonder?"

One evening when she was in the bar she saw Logre fling himself on the
bench in the sanctum, and heard him speak of his perambulations through
the faubourgs, with the remark that he was dead beat. She cast a hasty
glance at his feet, and saw that there was not a speck of dust on his
boots. Then she smiled quietly, and went off with her black-currant
syrup, her lips closely compressed.

She used to complete her budget of information on getting back to her
window. It was very high up, commanding a view of all the neighbouring
houses, and proved a source of endless enjoyment to her. She was
constantly installed at it, as though it were an observatory from which
she kept watch upon everything that went on in the neighbourhood. She
was quite familiar with all the rooms opposite her, both on the right
and the left, even to the smallest details of their furniture. She could
have described, without the least omission, the habits of their tenants,
have related if the latter's homes were happy or the contrary, have told
when and how they washed themselves, what they had for dinner, and
who it was that came to see them. Then she obtained a side view of the
markets, and not a woman could walk along the Rue Rambuteau without
being seen by her; and she could have correctly stated whence the woman
had come and whither she was going, what she had got in her basket,
and, in short, every detail about her, her husband, her clothes, her
children, and her means. "That's Madame Loret, over there; she's giving
her son a fine education; that's Madame Hutin, a poor little woman who's
dreadfully neglected by her husband; that's Mademoiselle Cecile,
the butcher's daughter, a girl that no one will marry because
she's scrofulous." In this way she could have continued jerking out
biographical scraps for days together, deriving extraordinary amusement
from the most trivial, uninteresting incidents. However, as soon as
eight o'clock struck, she only had eyes for the frosted "cabinet" window
on which appeared the black shadows of the coterie of politicians. She
discovered the secession of Charvet and Clemence by missing their bony
silhouettes from the milky transparency. Not an incident occurred in
that room but she sooner or later learnt it by some sudden motion of
those silent arms and heads. She acquired great skill in interpretation,
and could divine the meaning of protruding noses, spreading fingers,
gaping mouths, and shrugging shoulders; and in this way she followed
the progress of the conspiracy step by step, in such wise that she could
have told day by day how matters stood. One evening the terrible outcome
of it all was revealed to her. She saw the shadow of Gavard's revolver,
a huge silhouette with pointed muzzle showing very blackly against the
glimmering window. It kept appearing and disappearing so rapidly that it
seemed as though the room was full of revolvers. Those were the firearms
of which Mademoiselle Saget had spoken to Madame Quenu. On another
evening she was much puzzled by the sight of endless lengths of some
material or other, and came to the conclusion that the men must be
manufacturing cartridges.



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