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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. All along the
footways on both sides of the road there were still many market
gardeners, with other small growers from the environs of Paris,
who displayed baskets containing their "gatherings" of the previous
evening--bundles of vegetables and clusters of fruit. Whilst the crowd
incessantly paced hither and thither, vehicles barred the road; and
Florent, in order to pass them, had to press against some dingy sacks,
like coal-sacks in appearance, and so numerous and heavy that the
axle-trees of the vans bent beneath them. They were quite damp, and
exhaled a fresh odour of seaweed. From a rent low down in the side of
one of them a black stream of big mussels was trickling.

Florent and Claude had now to pause at every step. The fish was arriving
and one after another the drays of the railway companies drove up laden
with wooden cages full of the hampers and baskets that had come by train
from the sea coast. And to get out of the way of the fish drays, which
became more and more numerous and disquieting, the artist and Florent
rushed amongst the wheels of the drays laden with butter and eggs and
cheese, huge yellow vehicles bearing coloured lanterns, and drawn by
four horses. The market porters carried the cases of eggs, and baskets
of cheese and butter, into the auction pavilion, where clerks were
making entries in note books by the light of the gas.

Claude was quite charmed with all this uproar, and forgot everything to
gaze at some effect of light, some group of blouses, or the picturesque
unloading of a cart. At last they extricated themselves from the crowd,
and as they continued on their way along the main artery they presently
found themselves amidst an exquisite perfume which seemed to be
following them. They were in the cut-flower market. All over the
footways, to the right and left, women were seated in front of large
rectangular baskets full of bunches of roses, violets, dahlias, and
marguerites. At times the clumps darkened and looked like splotches
of blood, at others they brightened into silvery greys of the softest
tones. A lighted candle, standing near one basket, set amidst the
general blackness quite a melody of colour--the bright variegations
of marguerites, the blood-red crimson of dahlias, the bluey purple of
violets, and the warm flesh tints of roses. And nothing could have
been sweeter or more suggestive of springtide than this soft breath of
perfume encountered on the footway, on emerging from the sharp odours of
the fish market and the pestilential smell of the butter and the cheese.

Claude and Florent turned round and strolled about, loitering among the
flowers. They halted with some curiosity before several women who were
selling bunches of fern and bundles of vine-leaves, neatly tied up in
packets of five and twenty. Then they turned down another covered alley,
which was almost deserted, and where their footsteps echoed as though
they had been walking through a church. Here they found a little cart,
scarcely larger than a wheelbarrow, to which was harnessed a diminutive
donkey, who, no doubt, felt bored, for at sight of them he began braying
with such prolonged and sonorous force that the vast roofing of the
markets fairly trembled. Then the horses began to neigh in reply, there
was a sound of pawing and tramping, a distant uproar, which swelled,
rolled along, then died away.

Meantime, in the Rue Berger in front of them, Claude and Florent
perceived a number of bare, frontless, salesmen's shops, where, by the
light of flaring gas jets, they could distinguish piles of hampers and
fruit, enclosed by three dirty walls which were covered with addition
sums in pencil. And the two wanderers were still standing there,
contemplating this scene, when they noticed a well-dressed woman huddled
up in a cab which looked quite lost and forlorn in the block of carts as
it stealthily made its way onwards.

"There's Cinderella coming back without her slippers," remarked Claude
with a smile.

They began chatting together as they went back towards the markets.
Claude whistled as he strolled along with his hands in his pockets,
and expatiated on his love for this mountain of food which rises every
morning in the very centre of Paris. He prowled about the footways night
after night, dreaming of colossal still-life subjects, paintings of an
extraordinary character. He had even started on one, having his friend
Marjolin and that jade Cadine to pose for him; but it was hard work to
paint those confounded vegetables and fruit and fish and meat--they were
all so beautiful! Florent listened to the artist's enthusiastic talk
with a void and hunger-aching stomach. It did not seem to occur to
Claude that all those things were intended to be eaten. Their charm for
him lay in their colour. Suddenly, however, he ceased speaking and, with
a gesture that was habitual to him, tightened the long red sash which he
wore under his green-stained coat.

And then with a sly expression he resumed:

"Besides, I breakfast here, through my eyes, at any rate, and that's
better than getting nothing at all. Sometimes, when I've forgotten to
dine on the previous day, I treat myself to a perfect fit of indigestion
in the morning by watching the carts arrive here laden with all sorts
of good things. On such mornings as those I love my vegetables more than
ever. Ah! the exasperating part, the rank injustice of it all, is that
those rascally Philistines really eat these things!"

Then he went on to tell Florent of a supper to which a friend had
treated him at Baratte's on a day of affluence. They had partaken of
oysters, fish, and game. But Baratte's had sadly fallen, and all the
carnival life of the old Marche des Innocents was now buried. In place
thereof they had those huge central markets, that colossus of ironwork,
that new and wonderful town. Fools might say what they liked; it was the
embodiment of the spirit of the times. Florent, however, could not
at first make out whether he was condemning the picturesqueness of
Baratte's or its good cheer.

But Claude next began to inveigh against romanticism. He preferred his
piles of vegetables, he said, to the rags of the middle ages; and he
ended by reproaching himself with guilty weakness in making an etching
of the Rue Pirouette. All those grimy old places ought to be levelled
to the ground, he declared, and modern houses ought to be built in their
stead.

"There!" he exclaimed, coming to a halt, "look at the corner of the
footway yonder! Isn't that a picture readymade, ever so much more human
and natural than all their confounded consumptive daubs?"

Along the covered way women were now selling hot soup and coffee. At one
corner of the foot-pavement a large circle of customers clustered round
a vendor of cabbage soup. The bright tin caldron, full of broth, was
steaming over a little low stove, through the holes of which came the
pale glow of the embers. From a napkin-lined basket the woman took some
thin slices of bread and dropped them into yellow cups; then with a
ladle she filled the cups with liquor. Around her were saleswomen neatly
dressed, market gardeners in blouses, porters with coats soiled by the
loads they had carried, poor ragged vagabonds--in fact, all the early
hungry ones of the markets, eating, and scalding their mouths, and
drawing back their chins to avoid soiling them with the drippings from
their spoons. The delighted artist blinked, and sought a point of view
so as to get a good ensemble of the picture. That cabbage soup, however,
exhaled a very strong odour. Florent, for his part, turned his head
away, distressed by the sight of the full cups which the customers
emptied in silence, glancing around them the while like suspicious
animals. As the woman began serving a fresh customer, Claude himself was
affected by the odorous steam of the soup, which was wafted full in his
face.

He again tightened his sash, half amused and half annoyed. Then resuming
his walk, and alluding to the punch paid for by Alexandre, he said to
Florent in a low voice:

"It's very odd, but have you ever noticed that although a man can always
find somebody to treat him to something to drink, he can never find a
soul who will stand him anything to eat?"

The dawn was now rising. The houses on the Boulevard de Sebastopol at
the end of the Rue de la Cossonnerie were still black; but above the
sharp line of their slate roofs a patch of pale blue sky, circumscribed
by the arch-pieces of the covered way, showed like a gleaming half-moon.
Claude, who had been bending over some grated openings on a level with
the ground, through which a glimpse could be obtained of deep cellars
where gas lights glimmered, now glanced up into the air between the
lofty pillars, as though scanning the dark roofs which fringed the clear
sky. Then he halted again, with his eyes fixed on one of the light iron
ladders which connect the superposed market roofs and give access from
one to the other. Florent asked him what he was seeking there.

"I'm looking for that scamp of a Marjolin," replied the artist. "He's
sure to be in some guttering up there, unless, indeed, he's been
spending the night in the poultry cellars. I want him to give me a
sitting."

Then he went on to relate how a market saleswoman had found his friend
Marjolin one morning in a pile of cabbages, and how Marjolin had grown
up in all liberty on the surrounding footways. When an attempt had been
made to send him to school he had fallen ill, and it had been necessary
to bring him back to the markets.



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