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She pushed the others
away, and clung hold of the wardrobe, screaming: "It all belongs to
me! I am his nearest relative. You are a pack of thieves, you are! I'd
rather throw it all out of the window than see you have it!"

Then silence fell, and they all four stood glowering at each other.
The kerchief that La Sarriette wore over her breast was now altogether
unfastened, and she displayed her bosom heaving with warm life, her
moist red lips, her rosy nostrils. Madame Lecoeur grew still more sour
as she saw how lovely the girl looked in the excitement of her longing
desire.

"Well," she said in a lower tone, "we won't fight about it. You are his
niece, and I'll divide the money with you. We will each take a pile in
turn."

Thereupon they pushed the other two aside. The butter dealer took
the first pile, which at once disappeared within her skirts. Then La
Sarriette took a pile. They kept a close watch upon one another, ready
to fight at the slightest attempt at cheating. Their fingers were thrust
forward in turn, the hideous knotted fingers of the aunt and the white
fingers of the niece, soft and supple as silk. Slowly they filled their
pockets. When there was only one pile left, La Sarriette objected to
her aunt taking it, as she had commenced; and she suddenly divided
it between Mademoiselle Saget and Madame Leonce, who had watched them
pocket the gold with feverish impatience.

"Much obliged to you!" snarled the doorkeeper. "Fifty francs for having
coddled him up with tisane and broth! The old deceiver told me he had no
relatives!"

Before locking the wardrobe up again, Madame Lecoeur searched it
thoroughly from top to bottom. It contained all the political works
which were forbidden admission into the country, the pamphlets printed
at Brussels, the scandalous histories of the Bonapartes, and the foreign
caricatures ridiculing the Emperor. One of Gavard's greatest
delights was to shut himself up with a friend, and show him all these
compromising things.

"He told me that I was to burn all the papers," said La Sarriette.

"Oh, nonsense! we've no fire, and it would take up too long. The police
will soon be here! We must get out of this!"

They all four hastened off; but they had not reached the bottom of the
stairs before the police met them, and made Madame Leonce return with
them upstairs. The three others, making themselves as small as possible,
hurriedly escaped into the street. They walked away in single file at a
brisk pace; the aunt and niece considerably incommoded by the weight of
their drooping pockets. Mademoiselle Saget had kept her fifty francs in
her closed fist, and remained deep in thought, brooding over a plan for
extracting something more from the heavy pockets in front of her.

"Ah!" she exclaimed, as they reached the corner of the fish market,
"we've got here at a lucky moment. There's Florent yonder, just going to
walk into the trap."

Florent, indeed, was just then returning to the markets after his
prolonged perambulation. He went into his office to change his coat,
and then set about his daily duties, seeing that the marble slabs were
properly washed, and slowly strolling along the alleys. He fancied that
the fish-wives looked at him in a somewhat strange manner; they chuckled
too, and smiled significantly as he passed them. Some new vexation, he
thought, was in store for him. For some time past those huge, terrible
women had not allowed him a day's peace. However, as he passed the
Mehudins' stall he was very much surprised to hear the old woman address
him in a honeyed tone: "There's just been a gentleman inquiring for you,
Monsieur Florent; a middle-aged gentleman. He's gone to wait for you in
your room."

As the old fish-wife, who was squatting, all of a heap, on her chair,
spoke these words, she felt such a delicious thrill of satisfied
vengeance that her huge body fairly quivered. Florent, still doubtful,
glanced at the beautiful Norman; but the young woman, now completely
reconciled with her mother, turned on her tap and slapped her fish,
pretending not to hear what was being said.

"You are quite sure?" said Florent to Mother Mehudin.

"Oh, yes, indeed. Isn't that so, Louise?" said the old woman in a
shriller voice.

Florent concluded that it must be some one who wanted to see him about
the great business, and he resolved to go up to his room. He was just
about to leave the pavilion, when, happening to turn round, he observed
the beautiful Norman watching him with a grave expression on her face.
Then he passed in front of the three gossips.

"Do you notice that there's no one in the pork shop?" remarked
Mademoiselle Saget. "Beautiful Lisa's not the woman to compromise
herself."

The shop was, indeed, quite empty. The front of the house was still
bright with sunshine; the building looked like some honest, prosperous
pile guilelessly warming itself in the morning rays. Up above, the
pomegranate on the balcony was in full bloom. As Florent crossed the
roadway he gave a friendly nod to Logre and Monsieur Lebigre, who
appeared to be enjoying the fresh air on the doorstep of the latter's
establishment. They returned his greeting with a smile. Florent was then
about to enter the side-passage, when he fancied he saw Auguste's pale
face hastily vanishing from its dark and narrow depths. Thereupon he
turned back and glanced into the shop to make sure that the middle-aged
gentleman was not waiting for him there. But he saw no one but Mouton,
who sat on a block displaying his double chin and bristling whiskers,
and gazed at him defiantly with his great yellow eyes. And when he had
at last made up his mind to enter the passage, Lisa's face appeared
behind the little curtain of a glazed door at the back of the shop.

A hush had fallen over the fish market. All the huge paunches and bosoms
held their breath, waiting till Florent should disappear from sight.
Then there was an uproarious outbreak; and the bosoms heaved wildly
and the paunches nearly burst with malicious delight. The joke had
succeeded. Nothing could be more comical. As old Mother Mehudin vented
her merriment she shook and quivered like a wine-skin that is being
emptied. Her story of the middle-aged gentleman went the round of the
market, and the fish-wives found it extremely amusing. At last the long
spindle-shanks was collared, and they would no longer always have his
miserable face and gaol-bird's expression before their eyes. They
all wished him a pleasant journey, and trusted that they might get a
handsome fellow for their next inspector. And in their delight they
rushed about from one stall to another, and felt inclined to dance
round their marble slabs like a lot of holiday-making schoolgirls.
The beautiful Norman, however, watched this outbreak of joy in a rigid
attitude, not daring to move for fear she should burst into tears;
and she kept her hands pressed upon a big skate to cool her feverish
excitement.

"You see how those Mehudins turn their backs upon him now that he's come
to grief," said Madame Lecoeur.

"Well, and they're quite right too," replied Mademoiselle Saget.
"Besides, matters are settled now, my dear, and we're to have no more
disputes. You've every reason to be satisfied; leave the others to act
as they please."

"It's only the old woman who is laughing," La Sarriette remarked; "La
Normande looks anything but happy."

Meantime, upstairs in his bedroom, Florent allowed himself to be taken
as unresistingly as a sheep. The police officers sprang roughly
upon him, expecting, no doubt, that they would meet with a desperate
resistance. He quietly begged them to leave go of him; and then sat
down on a chair while they packed up his papers, and the red scarves,
armlets, and banners. He did not seem at all surprised at this ending;
indeed, it was something of a relief to him, though he would not frankly
confess it. But he suffered acutely at thought of the bitter hatred
which had sent him into that room; he recalled Auguste's pale face and
the sniggering looks of the fish-wives; he bethought himself of old
Madame Mehudin's words, La Normande's silence, and the empty shop
downstairs. The markets were leagued against him, he reflected; the
whole neighbourhood had conspired to hand him over to the police. The
mud of those greasy streets had risen up all around to overwhelm him!

And amidst all the round faces which flitted before his mind's eye there
suddenly appeared that of Quenu, and a spasm of mortal agony contracted
his heart.

"Come, get along downstairs!" exclaimed one of the officers, roughly.

Florent rose and proceeded to go downstairs. When he reached the second
floor he asked to be allowed to return; he had forgotten something, he
said. But the officers refused to let him go back, and began to hustle
him forward. Then he besought them to let him return to his room again,
and even offered them the money he had in his pocket. Two of them at
last consented to return with him, threatening to blow his brains out
should he attempt to play them any trick; and they drew their revolvers
out of their pockets as they spoke. However, on reaching his room once
more Florent simply went straight to the chaffinch's cage, took the
bird out of it, kissed it between its wings, and set it at liberty.
He watched it fly away through the open window, into the sunshine, and
alight, as though giddy, on the roof of the fish market. Then it flew
off again and disappeared over the markets in the direction of the
Square des Innocents. For a moment longer Florent remained face to face
with the sky, the free and open sky; and he thought of the wood-pigeons
cooing in the garden of the Tuileries, and of those other pigeons down
in the market cellars with their throats slit by Marjolin's knife. Then
he felt quite broken, and turned and followed the officers, who were
putting their revolvers back into their pockets as they shrugged their
shoulders.

On reaching the bottom of the stairs, Florent stopped before the door
which led into the kitchen. The commissary, who was waiting for him
there, seemed almost touched by his gentle submissiveness, and asked
him: "Would you like to say good-bye to your brother?"

For a moment Florent hesitated.



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