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"A very curious corner of old Paris
is the Rue Pirouette. It twists and turns like a dancing girl, and the
houses bulge out like pot-bellied gluttons. I've made an etching of it
that isn't half bad. I'll show it to you when you come to see me. Is it
to the Rue Pirouette that you want to go?"

Florent, who felt easier and more cheerful now that he knew the street
still existed, declared that he did not want to go there; in fact, he
did not want to go anywhere in particular. All his distrust awoke into
fresh life at Claude's insistence.

"Oh! never mind," said the artist, "let's go to the Rue Pirouette all
the same. It has such a fine colour at night time. Come along; it's only
a couple of yards away."

Florent felt constrained to follow him, and the two men walked off, side
by side, stepping over the hampers and vegetables like a couple of old
friends. On the footway of the Rue Rambuteau there were some immense
heaps of cauliflowers, symmetrically piled up like so many cannonballs.
The soft-white flowers spread out like huge roses in the midst of their
thick green leaves, and the piles had something of the appearance
of bridal bouquets ranged in a row in colossal flower stands. Claude
stopped in front of them, venting cries of admiration.

Then, on turning into the Rue Pirouette, which was just opposite,
he pointed out each house to his companion, and explained his views
concerning it. There was only a single gas lamp, burning in a corner.
The buildings, which had settled down and swollen, threw their
pent-houses forward in such wise as to justify Claude's allusion to
pot-bellied gluttons, whilst their gables receded, and on either side
they clung to their neighbours for support. Three or four, however,
standing in gloomy recesses, appeared to be on the point of toppling
forward. The solitary gas lamp illumined one which was snowy with a
fresh coat of whitewash, suggesting some flabby broken-down old dowager,
powdered and bedaubed in the hope of appearing young. Then the others
stretched away into the darkness, bruised, dented, and cracked,
greeny with the fall of water from their roofs, and displaying such
an extraordinary variety of attitudes and tints that Claude could not
refrain from laughing as he contemplated them.

Florent, however, came to stand at the corner of the rue de Mondetour,
in front of the last house but one on the left. Here the three floors,
each with two shutterless windows, having little white curtains closely
drawn, seemed wrapped in sleep; but, up above, a light could be seen
flitting behind the curtains of a tiny gable casement. However, the
sight of the shop beneath the pent-house seemed to fill Florent with the
deepest emotion. It was kept by a dealer in cooked vegetables, and was
just being opened. At its far end some metal pans were glittering, while
on several earthen ones in the window there was a display of cooked
spinach and endive, reduced to a paste and arranged in conical mounds
from which customers were served with shovel-like carvers of white
metal, only the handles of which were visible. This sight seemed to
rivet Florent to the ground with surprise. He evidently could not
recognize the place. He read the name of the shopkeeper, Godeboeuf,
which was painted on a red sign board up above, and remained quite
overcome by consternation. His arms dangling beside him, he began to
examine the cooked spinach, with the despairing air of one on whom some
supreme misfortune falls.

However, the gable casement was now opened, and a little old woman
leaned out of it, and looked first at the sky and then at the markets in
the distance.

"Ah, Mademoiselle Saget is an early riser," exclaimed Claude, who had
just raised his head. And, turning to his companion, he added: "I once
had an aunt living in that house. It's a regular hive of tittle-tattle!
Ah, the Mehudins are stirring now, I see. There's a light on the second
floor."

Florent would have liked to question his companion, but the latter's
long discoloured overcoat give him a disquieting appearance. So without
a word Florent followed him, whilst he went on talking about the
Mehudins. These Mehudins were fish-girls, it seemed; the older one was a
magnificent creature, while the younger one, who sold fresh-water
fish, reminded Claude of one of Murillo's virgins, whenever he saw her
standing with her fair face amidst her carps and eels.

From this Claude went on to remark with asperity that Murillo painted
like an ignoramus. But all at once he stopped short in the middle of the
street.

"Come!" he exclaimed, "tell me where it is that you want to go."

"I don't want to go anywhere just at present," replied Florent in
confusion. "Let's go wherever you like."

Just as they were leaving the Rue Pirouette, some one called to Claude
from a wine shop at the corner of the street. The young man went in,
dragging Florent with him. The shutters had been taken down on one side
only, and the gas was still burning in the sleepy atmosphere of the
shop. A forgotten napkin and some cards that had been used in the
previous evening's play were still lying on the tables; and the fresh
breeze that streamed in through the open doorway freshened the close,
warm vinous air. The landlord, Monsieur Lebigre, was serving his
customers. He wore a sleeved waistcoat, and his fat regular features,
fringed by an untidy beard, were still pale with sleep. Standing in
front of the counter, groups of men, with heavy, tired eyes, were
drinking, coughing, and spitting, whilst trying to rouse themselves
by the aid of white wine and brandy. Amongst them Florent recognised
Lacaille, whose sack now overflowed with various sorts of vegetables.
He was taking his third dram with a friend, who was telling him a long
story about the purchase of a hamper of potatoes.[*] When he had emptied
his glass, he went to chat with Monsieur Lebigre in a little glazed
compartment at the end of the room, where the gas had not yet been
lighted.

[*] At the Paris central markets potatoes are sold by the
hamper, not by the sack as in England.--Translator.

"What will you take?" Claude asked of Florent.

He had on entering grasped the hand of the person who had called out
to him. This was a market porter,[*] a well-built young man of two and
twenty at the most. His cheeks and chin were clean-shaven, but he wore
a small moustache, and looked a sprightly, strapping fellow with his
broad-brimmed hat covered with chalk, and his wool-worked neck-piece,
the straps falling from which tightened his short blue blouse. Claude,
who called him Alexandre, patted his arms, and asked him when they were
going to Charentonneau again. Then they talked about a grand excursion
they had made together in a boat on the Marne, when they had eaten a
rabbit for supper in the evening.

[*] _Fort_ is the French term, literally "a strong man," as
every market porter needs to be.--Translator.

"Well, what will you take?" Claude again asked Florent.

The latter looked at the counter in great embarrassment. At one end of
it some stoneware pots, encircled with brass bands and containing punch
and hot wine, were standing over the short blue flames of a gas stove.
Florent at last confessed that a glass of something warm would be
welcome. Monsieur Lebigre thereupon served them with three glasses of
punch. In a basket near the pots were some smoking hot rolls which had
only just arrived. However, as neither of the others took one, Florent
likewise refrained, and drank his punch. He felt it slipping down into
his empty stomach, like a steam of molten lead. It was Alexandre who
paid for the "shout."

"He's a fine fellow, that Alexandre!" said Claude, when he and Florent
found themselves alone again on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau. "He's
a very amusing companion to take into the country. He's fond of showing
his strength. And then he's so magnificently built! I have seen him
stripped. Ah, if I could only get him to pose for me in the nude out in
the open air! Well, we'll go and take a turn through the markets now, if
you like."

Florent followed, yielding entirely to his new friend's guidance. A
bright glow at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau announced the break of
day. The far-spreading voice of the markets was become more sonorous,
and every now and then the peals of a bell ringing in some distant
pavilion mingled with the swelling, rising clamour. Claude and Florent
entered one of the covered streets between the fish and poultry
pavilions. Florent raised his eyes and looked at the lofty vault
overhead, the inner timbers of which glistened amidst a black lacework
of iron supports. As he turned into the great central thoroughfare he
pictured himself in some strange town, with its various districts and
suburbs, promenades and streets, squares and cross-roads, all suddenly
placed under shelter on a rainy day by the whim of some gigantic power.
The deep gloom brooding in the hollows of the roofs multiplied, as it
were, the forest of pillars, and infinitely increased the number of the
delicate ribs, railed galleries, and transparent shutters. And over
the phantom city and far away into the depths of the shade, a teeming,
flowering vegetation of luxuriant metal-work, with spindle-shaped stems
and twining knotted branches, covered the vast expanse as with the
foliage of some ancient forest. Several departments of the markets
still slumbered behind their closed iron gates. The butter and poultry
pavilions displayed rows of little trellised stalls and long alleys,
which lines of gas lights showed to be deserted. The fish market,
however, had just been opened, and women were flitting to and fro
amongst the white slabs littered with shadowy hampers and cloths. Among
the vegetables and fruit and flowers the noise and bustle were gradually
increasing. The whole place was by degree waking up, from the popular
quarter where the cabbages are piled at four o'clock in the morning,
to the lazy and wealthy district which only hangs up its pullets and
pheasants when the hands of the clock point to eight.

The great covered alleys were now teeming with life.



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