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The departure of the child, the prayer in the maiden's chamber,
the return of the poor mad creature, moistened her eyes with gentle
tears, which she brushed away with her handkerchief.

However, the pleasure which the evening afforded her turned into a
feeling of triumph when she caught sight of La Normande and her mother
sitting in the upper gallery. She thereupon puffed herself out more than
ever, sent Quenu off to the refreshment bar for a box of caramels, and
began to play with her fan, a mother-of-pearl fan, elaborately gilt.
The fish-girl was quite crushed; and bent her head down to listen to
her mother, who was whispering to her. When the performance was over
and beautiful Lisa and the beautiful Norman met in the vestibule they
exchanged a vague smile.

Florent had dined early at Monsieur Lebigre's that day. He was expecting
Logre, who had promised to introduce to him a retired sergeant, a
capable man, with whom they were to discuss the plan of attack upon the
Palais Bourbon and the Hotel de Ville. The night closed in, and the
fine rain, which had begun to fall in the afternoon, shrouded the vast
markets in a leaden gloom. They loomed darkly against the copper-tinted
sky, while wisps of murky cloud skimmed by almost on a level with the
roofs, looking as though they were caught and torn by the points of the
lightning-conductors. Florent felt depressed by the sight of the muddy
streets, and the streaming yellowish rain which seemed to sweep the
twilight away and extinguish it in the mire. He watched the crowds of
people who had taken refuge on the foot-pavements of the covered ways,
the umbrellas flitting past in the downpour, and the cabs that dashed
with increased clatter and speed along the wellnigh deserted roads.
Presently there was a rift in the clouds; and a red glow arose in the
west. Then a whole army of street-sweepers came into sight at the end of
the Rue Montmartre, driving a lake of liquid mud before them with their
brooms.

Logre did not turn up with the sergeant; Gavard had gone to dine with
some friends at Batignolles, and so Florent was reduced to spending the
evening alone with Robine. He had all the talking to himself, and ended
by feeling very low-spirited. His companion merely wagged his beard, and
stretched out his hand every quarter of an hour to raise his glass of
beer to his lips. At last Florent grew so bored that he went off to
bed. Robine, however, though left to himself, still lingered there,
contemplating his glass with an expression of deep thought. Rose and the
waiter, who had hoped to shut up early, as the coterie of politicians
was absent, had to wait a long half hour before he at last made up his
mind to leave.

When Florent got to his room, he felt afraid to go to bed. He was
suffering from one of those nervous attacks which sometimes plunged him
into horrible nightmares until dawn. On the previous day he had been to
Clamart to attend the funeral of Monsieur Verlaque, who had died after
terrible sufferings; and he still felt sad at the recollection of the
narrow coffin which he had seen lowered into the earth. Nor could he
banish from his mind the image of Madame Verlaque, who, with a tearful
voice, though there was not a tear in her eyes, kept following him and
speaking to him about the coffin, which was not paid for, and of the
cost of the funeral, which she was quite at a loss about, as she had
not a copper in the place, for the druggist, on hearing of her husband's
death on the previous day, had insisted upon his bill being paid. So
Florent had been obliged to advance the money for the coffin and other
funeral expenses, and had even given the gratuities to the mutes.
Just as he was going away, Madame Verlaque looked at him with such a
heartbroken expression that he left her twenty francs.

And now Monsieur Verlaque's death worried him very much. It affected
his situation in the markets. He might lose his berth, or perhaps
be formally appointed inspector. In either case he foresaw vexatious
complications which might arouse the suspicions of the police. He would
have been delighted if the insurrection could have broken out the very
next day, so that he might at once have tossed the laced cap of his
inspectorship into the streets. With his mind full of harassing thoughts
like these, he stepped out upon the balcony, as though soliciting of the
warm night some whiff of air to cool his fevered brow. The rain had
laid the wind, and a stormy heat still reigned beneath the deep blue,
cloudless heavens. The markets, washed by the downpour, spread out below
him, similar in hue to the sky, and, like the sky, studded with the
yellow stars of their gas lamps.

Leaning on the iron balustrade, Florent recollected that sooner or later
he would certainly be punished for having accepted the inspectorship. It
seemed to lie like a stain on his life. He had become an official of the
Prefecture, forswearing himself, serving the Empire in spite of all
the oaths he had taken in his exile. His anxiety to please Lisa, the
charitable purpose to which he had devoted the salary he received, the
just and scrupulous manner in which he had always struggled to carry
out his duties, no longer seemed to him valid excuses for his base
abandonment of principle. If he had suffered in the midst of all that
sleek fatness, he had deserved to suffer. And before him arose a
vision of the evil year which he had just spent, his persecution by the
fish-wives, the sickening sensations he had felt on close, damp days,
the continuous indigestion which had afflicted his delicate stomach, and
the latent hostility which was gathering strength against him. All these
things he now accepted as chastisement. That dull rumbling of hostility
and spite, the cause of which he could not divine, must forebode some
coming catastrophe before whose approach he already stooped, with the
shame of one who knows there is a transgression that he must expiate.
Then he felt furious with himself as he thought of the popular rising he
was preparing; and reflected that he was no longer unsullied enough to
achieve success.

In how many dreams he had indulged in that lofty little room, with his
eyes wandering over the spreading roofs of the market pavilions! They
usually appeared to him like grey seas that spoke to him of far-off
countries. On moonless nights they would darken and turn into stagnant
lakes of black and pestilential water. But on bright nights they became
shimmering fountains of light, the moonbeams streaming over both tiers
like water, gliding along the huge plates of zinc, and flowing over the
edges of the vast superposed basins. Then frosty weather seemed to turn
these roofs into rigid ice, like the Norwegian bays over which skaters
skim; while the warm June nights lulled them into deep sleep. One
December night, on opening his window, he had seen them white with snow,
so lustrously white that they lighted up the coppery sky. Unsullied by
a single footstep, they then stretched out like the lonely plains of the
Far North, where never a sledge intrudes. Their silence was beautiful,
their soft peacefulness suggestive of innocence.

And at each fresh aspect of the ever-changing panorama before him,
Florent yielded to dreams which were now sweet, now full of bitter pain.
The snow calmed him; the vast sheet of whiteness seemed to him like a
veil of purity thrown over the filth of the markets. The bright, clear
nights, the shimmering moonbeams, carried him away into the fairy-land
of story-books. It was only the dark, black nights, the burning nights
of June, when he beheld, as it were, a miasmatic marsh, the stagnant
water of a dead and accursed sea, that filled him with gloom and grief;
and then ever the same dreadful visions haunted his brain.

The markets were always there. He could never open the window and rest
his elbows on the balustrade without having them before him, filling
the horizon. He left the pavilions in the evening only to behold their
endless roofs as he went to bed. They shut him off from the rest of
Paris, ceaselessly intruded their huge bulk upon him, entered into every
hour of his life. That night again horrible fancies came to him, fancies
aggravated by the vague forebodings of evil which distressed him. The
rain of the afternoon had filled the markets with malodorous dampness,
and as they wallowed there in the centre of the city, like some drunken
man lying, after his last bottle, under the table, they cast all their
foul breath into his face. He seemed to see a thick vapour rising up
from each pavilion. In the distance the meat and tripe markets reeked
with the sickening steam of blood; nearer in, the vegetable and fruit
pavilions diffused the odour of pungent cabbages, rotten apples, and
decaying leaves; the butter and cheese exhaled a poisonous stench; from
the fish market came a sharp, fresh gust; while from the ventilator in
the tower of the poultry pavilion just below him, he could see a warm
steam issuing, a fetid current rising in coils like the sooty smoke from
a factory chimney. And all these exhalations coalesced above the roofs,
drifted towards the neighbouring houses, and spread themselves out in
a heavy cloud which stretched over the whole of Paris. It was as though
the markets were bursting within their tight belt of iron, were beating
the slumber of the gorged city with the stertorous fumes of their
midnight indigestion.

However, on the footway down below Florent presently heard a sound of
voices, the laughter of happy folks. Then the door of the passage was
closed noisily. It was Quenu and Lisa coming home from the theatre.
Stupefied and intoxicated, as it were, by the atmosphere he was
breathing, Florent thereupon left the balcony, his nerves still
painfully excited by the thought of the tempest which he could feel
gathering round his head. The source of his misery was yonder, in
those markets, heated by the day's excesses. He closed the window with
violence, and left them wallowing in the darkness, naked and perspiring
beneath the stars.



CHAPTER VI

A week later, Florent thought that he would at last be able to proceed
to action.



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