Claude clapped his hands at the sight. He declared that those "blackguard vegetables" were wild, mad, sublime! He stoutly maintained that they were not yet dead, but, gathered in the previous evening, waited for the morning sun to bid him good-bye from the flag-stones of the market. He could observe their vitality, he declared, see their leaves stir and open as though their roots were yet firmly and warmly embedded in well-manured soil. And here, in the markets, he added, he heard the death-rattle of all the kitchen gardens of the environs of Paris.
A crowd of white caps, loose black jackets, and blue blouses was swarming in the narrow paths between the various piles. The big baskets of the market porters passed along slowly, above the heads of the throng. Retail dealers, costermongers, and greengrocers were making their purchases in haste. Corporals and nuns clustered round the mountains of cabbages, and college cooks prowled about inquisitively, on the look-out for good bargains. The unloading was still going on; heavy tumbrels, discharging their contents as though these were so many paving-stones, added more and more waves to the sea of greenery which was now beating against the opposite footways. And from the far end of the Rue du Pont Neuf fresh rows of carts were still and ever arriving.
"What a fine sight it is!" exclaimed Claude in an ecstasy of enthusiasm.
Florent was suffering keenly. He fancied that all this was some supernatural temptation, and, unwilling to look at the markets any longer, turned towards Saint Eustache, a side view of which he obtained from the spot where he now stood. With its roses, and broad arched windows, its bell-turret, and roofs of slate, it looked as though painted in sepia against the blue of the sky. He fixed his eyes at last on the sombre depths of the Rue Montorgueil, where fragments of gaudy sign boards showed conspicuously, and on the corner of the Rue Montmartre, where there were balconies gleaming with letters of gold. And when he again glanced at the cross-roads, his gaze was solicited by other sign boards, on which such inscriptions as "Druggist and Chemist," "Flour and Grain" appeared in big red and black capital letters upon faded backgrounds. Near these corners, houses with narrow windows were now awakening, setting amidst the newness and airiness of the Rue du Pont Neuf a few of the yellow ancient facades of olden Paris. Standing at the empty windows of the great drapery shop at the corner of the Rue Rambuteau a number of spruce-looking counter-jumpers in their shirt sleeves, with snowy-white wristbands and tight-fitting pantaloons, were "dressing" their goods. Farther away, in the windows of the severe looking, barrack-like Guillot establishment, biscuits in gilt wrappers and fancy cakes on glass stands were tastefully set out. All the shops were now open; and workmen in white blouses, with tools under their arms, were hurrying along the road.
Claude had not yet got down from the bench. He was standing on tiptoe in order to see the farther down the streets. Suddenly, in the midst of the crowd which he overlooked, he caught sight of a fair head with long wavy locks, followed by a little black one covered with curly tumbled hair.
"Hallo, Marjolin! Hallo, Cadine!" he shouted; and then, as his voice was drowned by the general uproar, he jumped to the ground and started off. But all at once, recollecting that he had left Florent behind him, he hastily came back. "I live at the end of the Impasse des Bourdonnais," he said rapidly. "My name's written in chalk on the door, Claude Lantier. Come and see the etching of the Rue Pirouette."
Then he vanished. He was quite ignorant of Florent's name, and, after favouring him with his views on art, parted from him as he had met him, at the roadside.
Florent was now alone, and at first this pleased him. Ever since Madame Francoise had picked him up in the Avenue de Neuilly he had been coming and going in a state of pain fraught somnolence which had quite prevented him from forming any definite ideas of his surroundings. Now at last he was at liberty to do what he liked, and he tried to shake himself free from that intolerable vision of teeming food by which he was pursued. But his head still felt empty and dizzy, and all that he could find within him was a kind of vague fear. The day was now growing quite bright, and he could be distinctly seen. He looked down at his wretched shabby coat and trousers. He buttoned the first, dusted the latter, and strove to make a bit of a toilet, fearing lest those black rags of his should proclaim aloud whence he had come. He was seated in the middle of the bench, by the side of some wandering vagabonds who had settled themselves there while waiting for the sunrise. The neighbourhood of the markets is a favourite spot with vagrants in the small hours of the morning. However, two constables, still in night uniform, with cloaks and kepis, paced up and down the footway side by side, their hands resting behind their backs; and every time they passed the bench they glanced at the game which they scented there. Florent felt sure that they recognised him, and were consulting together about arresting him. At this thought his anguish of mind became extreme. He felt a wild desire to get up and run away; but he did not dare to do so, and was quite at a loss as to how he might take himself off. The repeated glances of the constables, their cold, deliberate scrutiny caused him the keenest torture. At length he rose from the bench, making a great effort to restrain himself from rushing off as quickly as his long legs could carry him; and succeeded in walking quietly away, though his shoulders quivered in the fear he felt of suddenly feeling the rough hands of the constables clutching at his collar from behind.
He had now only one thought, one desire, which was to get away from the markets as quickly as possible. He would wait and make his investigations later on, when the footways should be clear. The three streets which met here—the Rue Montmartre, Rue Montorgueil, and Rue Turbigo—filled him with uneasiness. They were blocked by vehicles of all kinds, and their footways were crowded with vegetables. Florent went straight along as far as the Rue Pierre Lescot, but there the cress and the potato markets seemed to him insuperable obstacles. So he resolved to take the Rue Rambuteau. On reaching the Boulevard de Sebastopol, however, he came across such a block of vans and carts and waggonettes that he turned back and proceeded along the Rue Saint Denis. Then he got amongst the vegetables once more. Retail dealers had just set up their stalls, formed of planks resting on tall hampers; and the deluge of cabbages and carrots and turnips began all over again. The markets were overflowing. Florent tried to make his escape from this pursuing flood which ever overtook him in his flight. He tried the Rue de la Cossonnerie, the Rue Berger, the Square des Innocents, the Rue de la Ferronnerie, and the Rue des Halles. And at last he came to a standstill, quite discouraged and scared at finding himself unable to escape from the infernal circle of vegetables, which now seemed to dance around him, twining clinging verdure about his legs.
The everlasting stream of carts and horses stretched away as far as the Rue de Rivoli and the Place de l'Hotel de Ville. Huge vans were carrying away supplies for all the greengrocers and fruiterers of an entire district; chars-a-bancs were starting for the suburbs with straining, groaning sides. In the Rue de Pont Neuf Florent got completely bewildered. He stumbled upon a crowd of hand-carts, in which numerous costermongers were arranging their purchases. Amongst them he recognised Lacaille, who went off along the Rue Saint Honore, pushing a barrow of carrots and cauliflowers before him. Florent followed him, in the hope that he would guide him out of the mob. The pavement was now quite slippery, although the weather was dry, and the litter of artichoke stalks, turnip tops, and leaves of all kinds made walking somewhat dangerous. Florent stumbled at almost every step. He lost sight of Lacaille in the Rue Vauvilliers, and on approaching the corn market he again found the streets barricaded with vehicles. Then he made no further attempt to struggle; he was once more in the clutch of the markets, and their stream of life bore him back. Slowly retracing his steps, he presently found himself by Saint Eustache again.
He now heard the loud continuous rumbling of the waggons that were setting out from the markets. Paris was doling out the daily food of its two million inhabitants. These markets were like some huge central organ beating with giant force, and sending the blood of life through every vein of the city. The uproar was akin to that of colossal jaws—a mighty sound to which each phase of the provisioning contributed, from the whip-cracking of the larger retail dealers as they started off for the district markets to the dragging pit-a-pat of the old shoes worn by the poor women who hawked their lettuces in baskets from door to door.
Florent turned into a covered way on the left, intersecting the group of four pavilions whose deep silent gloom he had remarked during the night. He hoped that he might there find a refuge, discover some corner in which he could hide himself. But these pavilions were now as busy, as lively as the others. Florent walked on to the end of the street. Drays were driving up at a quick trot, crowding the market with cages full of live poultry, and square hampers in which dead birds were stowed in deep layers. On the other side of the way were other drays from which porters were removing freshly killed calves, wrapped in canvas, and laid at full length in baskets, whence only the four bleeding stumps of their legs protruded. There were also whole sheep, and sides and quarters of beef. Butchers in long white aprons marked the meat with a stamp, carried it off, weighted it, and hung it up on hooks in the auction room. Florent, with his face close to the grating, stood gazing at the rows of hanging carcasses, at the ruddy sheep and oxen and paler calves, all streaked with yellow fat and sinews, and with bellies yawning open. Then he passed along the sidewalk where the tripe market was held, amidst the pallid calves' feet and heads, the rolled tripe neatly packed in boxes, the brains delicately set out in flat baskets, the sanguineous livers, and purplish kidneys. He checked his steps in front of some long two-wheeled carts, covered with round awnings, and containing sides of pork hung on each side of the vehicle over a bed of straw. Seen from the back end, the interiors of the carts looked like recesses of some tabernacle, like some taper-lighted chapel, such was the glow of all the bare flesh they contained. And on the beds of straw were lines of tin cans, full of the blood that had trickled from the pigs. Thereupon Florent was attacked by a sort of rage. The insipid odour of the meat, the pungent smell of the tripe exasperated him. He made his way out of the covered road, preferring to return once more to the footwalk of the Rue de Pont Neuf.
He was enduring perfect agony. The shiver of early morning came upon him; his teeth chattered, and he was afraid of falling to the ground and finding himself unable to rise again. He looked about, but could see no vacant place on any bench. Had he found one he would have dropped asleep there, even at the risk of being awakened by the police. Then, as giddiness nearly blinded him, he leaned for support against a tree, with his eyes closed and his ears ringing. The raw carrot, which he had swallowed almost without chewing, was torturing his stomach, and the glass of punch which he had drunk seemed to have intoxicated him. He was indeed intoxicated with misery, weariness, and hunger. Again he felt a burning fire in the pit of the stomach, to which he every now and then carried his hands, as though he were trying to stop up a hole through which all his life was oozing away. As he stood there he fancied that the foot-pavement rocked beneath him; and thinking that he might perhaps lessen his sufferings by walking, he went straight on through the vegetables again. He lost himself among them. He went along a narrow footway, turned down another, was forced to retrace his steps, bungled in doing so, and once more found himself amidst piles of greenery. Some heaps were so high that people seemed to be walking between walls of bundles and bunches. Only their heads slightly overtopped these ramparts, and passed along showing whitely or blackly according to the colour of their hats or caps; whilst the huge swinging baskets, carried aloft on a level with the greenery, looked like osier boats floating on a stagnant, mossy lake.
Florent stumbled against a thousand obstacles—against porters taking up their burdens, and saleswomen disputing in rough tones. He slipped over the thick bed of waste leaves and stumps which covered the footway, and was almost suffocated by the powerful odour of crushed verdure. At last he halted in a sort of confused stupor, and surrendered to the pushing of some and the insults of others; and then he became a mere waif, a piece of wreckage tossed about on the surface of that surging sea.
He was fast losing all self-respect, and would willingly have begged. The recollection of his foolish pride during the night exasperated him. If he had accepted Madame Francois's charity, if he had not felt such idiotic fear of Claude, he would not now have been stranded there groaning in the midst of these cabbages. And he was especially angry with himself for not having questioned the artist when they were in the Rue Pirouette. Now, alas! he was alone and deserted, liable to die in the streets like a homeless dog.
For the last time he raised his eyes and looked at the markets. At present they were glittering in the sun. A broad ray was pouring through the covered road from the far end, cleaving the massy pavilions with an arcade of light, whilst fiery beams rained down upon the far expanse of roofs. The huge iron framework grew less distinct, assumed a bluey hue, became nothing but a shadowy silhouette outlined against the flaming flare of the sunrise. But up above a pane of glass took fire, drops of light trickled down the broad sloping zinc plates to the gutterings; and then, below, a tumultuous city appeared amidst a haze of dancing golden dust. The general awakening had spread, from the first start of the market gardeners snoring in their cloaks, to the brisk rolling of the food-laden railway drays. And the whole city was opening its iron gates, the footways were humming, the pavilions roaring with life. Shouts and cries of all kinds rent the air; it was as though the strain, which Florent had heard gathering force in the gloom ever since four in the morning, had now attained its fullest volume. To the right and left, on all sides indeed, the sharp cries accompanying the auction sales sounded shrilly like flutes amidst the sonorous bass roar of the crowd. It was the fish, the butter, the poultry, and the meat being sold.
The pealing of bells passed through the air, imparting a quiver to the buzzing of the opening markets. Around Florent the sun was setting the vegetables aflame. He no longer perceived any of those soft water-colour tints which had predominated in the pale light of early morning. The swelling hearts of the lettuces were now gleaming brightly, the scales of greenery showed forth with wondrous vigour, the carrots glowed blood-red, the turnips shone as if incandescent in the triumphant radiance of the sun.
On Florent's left some waggons were discharging fresh loads of cabbages. He turned his eyes, and away in the distance saw carts yet streaming out of the Rue Turbigo. The tide was still and ever rising. He had felt it about his ankles, then on a level with his stomach, and now it was threatening to drown him altogether. Blinded and submerged, his ears buzzing, his stomach overpowered by all that he had seen, he asked for mercy; and wild grief took possession of him at the thought of dying there of starvation in the very heart of glutted Paris, amidst the effulgent awakening of her markets. Big hot tears started from his eyes.
Walking on, he had now reached one of the larger alleys. Two women, one short and old, the other tall and withered, passed him, talking together as they made their way towards the pavilions.
"So you've come to do your marketing, Mademoiselle Saget?" said the tall withered woman.
"Well, yes, Madame Lecoeur, if you can give it such a name as marketing. I'm a lone woman, you know, and live on next to nothing. I should have liked a small cauliflower, but everything is so dear. How is butter selling to-day?"
"At thirty-four sous. I have some which is first rate. Will you come and look at it?"
"Well, I don't know if I shall want any to-day; I've still a little lard left."
Making a supreme effort, Florent followed these two women. He recollected having heard Claude name the old one—Mademoiselle Saget—when they were in the Rue Pirouette; and he made up his mind to question her when she should have parted from her tall withered acquaintance.
"And how's your niece?" Mademoiselle Saget now asked.
"Oh, La Sarriette does as she likes," Madame Lecoeur replied in a bitter tone. "She's chosen to set up for herself and her affairs no longer concern me. When her lovers have beggared her, she needn't come to me for any bread."
"And you were so good to her, too! She ought to do well this year; fruit is yielding big profits. And your brother-in-law, how is he?"
Madame Lecoeur bit her lips, and seemed disinclined to say anything more.
"Still the same as ever, I suppose?" continued Mademoiselle Saget. "He's a very worthy man. Still, I once heard it said that he spent his money in such a way that—"
"But does anyone know how he spends his money?" interrupted Madame Lecoeur, with much asperity. "He's a miserly niggard, a scurvy fellow, that's what I say! Do you know, mademoiselle, he'd see me die of starvation rather than lend me five francs! He knows quite well that there's nothing to be made out of butter this season, any more than out of cheese and eggs; whereas he can sell as much poultry as ever he chooses. But not once, I assure you, not once has he offered to help me. I am too proud, as you know, to accept any assistance from him; still it would have pleased me to have had it offered."
"Ah, by the way, there he is, your brother-in-law!" suddenly exclaimed Mademoiselle Saget, lowering her voice.
The two women turned and gazed at a man who was crossing the road to enter the covered way close by.
"I'm in a hurry," murmured Madame Lecoeur. "I left my stall without anyone to look after it; and, besides, I don't want to speak to him."
However, Florent also had mechanically turned round and glanced at the individual referred to. This was a short, squarely-built man, with a cheery look and grey, close-cut brush-like hair. Under each arm he was carrying a fat goose, whose head hung down and flapped against his legs. And then all at once Florent made a gesture of delight. Forgetting his fatigue, he ran after the man, and, overtaking him, tapped him on the shoulder.
"Gavard!" he exclaimed.
The other raised his head and stared with surprise at Florent's tall black figure, which he did not at first recognise. Then all at once: "What! is it you?" he cried, as if overcome with amazement. "Is it really you?"
He all but let his geese fall, and seemed unable to master his surprise. On catching sight, however, of his sister-in-law and Mademoiselle Saget, who were watching the meeting at a distance, he began to walk on again.
"Come along; don't let us stop here," he said. "There are too many eyes and tongues about."
When they were in the covered way they began to chat. Florent related how he had gone to the Rue Pirouette, at which Gavard seemed much amused and laughed heartily. Then he told Florent that his brother Quenu had moved from that street and had reopened his pork shop close by, in the Rue Rambuteau, just in front of the markets. And afterwards he was again highly amused to hear that Florent had been wandering about all that morning with Claude Lantier, an odd kind of fish, who, strangely enough, said he, was Madame Quenu's nephew. Thus chatting, Gavard was on the point of taking Florent straight to the pork shop, but, on hearing that he had returned to France with false papers, he suddenly assumed all sorts of solemn and mysterious airs, and insisted upon walking some fifteen paces in front of him, to avoid attracting attention. After passing through the poultry pavilion, where he hung his geese up in his stall, he began to cross the Rue Rambuteau, still followed by Florent; and then, halting in the middle of the road, he glanced significantly towards a large and well-appointed pork shop.
The sun was obliquely enfilading the Rue Rambuteau, lighting up the fronts of the houses, in the midst of which the Rue Pirouette formed a dark gap. At the other end the great pile of Saint Eustache glittered brightly in the sunlight like some huge reliquary. And right through the crowd, from the distant crossway, an army of street-sweepers was advancing in file down the road, the brooms swishing rhythmically, while scavengers provided with forks pitched the collected refuse into tumbrels, which at intervals of a score of paces halted with a noise like the chattering of broken pots. However, all Florent's attention was concentrated on the pork shop, open and radiant in the rising sun.
It stood very near the corner of the Rue Pirouette and provided quite a feast for the eyes. Its aspect was bright and smiling, touches of brilliant colour showing conspicuously amidst all the snowy marble. The sign board, on which the name of QUENU-GRADELLE glittered in fat gilt letters encircled by leaves and branches painted on a soft-hued background, was protected by a sheet of glass. On two panels, one on each side of the shop-front, and both, like the board above, covered with glass, were paintings representing various chubby little cupids playing amidst boars' heads, pork chops and strings of sausages; and these latter still-life subjects, embellished with scrolls and bows, had been painted in such soft tones that the uncooked pork which they represented had the pinkiness of raspberry jam. Within this pleasing framework arose the window display, arranged upon a bed of fine blue-paper shavings. Here and there fern-leaves, tastefully disposed, changed the plates which they encircled into bouquets fringed with foliage. There was a wealth of rich, luscious, melting things. Down below, quite close to the window, jars of preserved sausage-meat were interspersed with pots of mustard. Above these were some small, plump, boned hams. Golden with their dressings of toasted bread-crumbs, and adorned at the knuckles with green rosettes. Next came the larger dishes, some containing preserved Strasburg tongues, enclosed in bladders coloured a bright red and varnished, so that they looked quite sanguineous beside the pale sausages and trotters; then there were black-puddings coiled like harmless snakes, healthy looking chitterlings piled up two by two; Lyons sausages in little silver copes that made them look like choristers; hot pies, with little banner-like tickets stuck in them; big hams, and great glazed joints of veal and pork, whose jelly was as limpid as sugar-candy. In the rear were other dishes and earthen pans in which meat, minced and sliced, slumbered beneath lakes of melted fat. And betwixt the various plates and dishes, jars and bottle of sauce, cullis, stock and preserved truffles, pans of foie gras and boxes of sardines and tunny-fish were strewn over the bed of paper shavings. A box of creamy cheeses, and one of edible snails, the apertures of whose shells were dressed with butter and parsley, had been placed carelessly at either corner. Finally, from a bar overhead strings of sausages and saveloys of various sizes hung down symmetrically like cords and tassels; while in the rear fragments of intestinal membranes showed like lacework, like some guipure of white flesh. And on the highest tier in this sanctuary of gluttony, amidst the membranes and between two bouquets of purple gladioli, the window stand was crowned by a small square aquarium, ornamented with rock-work, and containing a couple of gold-fish, which were continually swimming round it.
Florent's whole body thrilled at the sight. Then he perceived a woman standing in the sunlight at the door of the shop. With her prosperous, happy look in the midst of all those inviting things she added to the cherry aspect of the place. She was a fine woman and quite blocked the doorway. Still, she was not over stout, but simply buxom, with the full ripeness of her thirty years. She had only just risen, yet her glossy hair was already brushed smooth and arranged in little flat bands over her temples, giving her an appearance of extreme neatness. She had the fine skin, the pinky-white complexion common to those whose life is spent in an atmosphere of raw meat and fat. There was a touch of gravity about her demeanour, her movements were calm and slow; what mirth or pleasure she felt she expressed by her eyes, her lips retaining all their seriousness. A collar of starched linen encircled her neck, white sleevelets reached to her elbows, and a white apron fell even over the tips of her shoes, so that you saw but little of her black cashmere dress, which clung tightly to her well-rounded shoulders and swelling bosom. The sun rays poured hotly upon all the whiteness she displayed. However, although her bluish-black hair, her rosy face, and bright sleeves and apron were steeped in the glow of light, she never once blinked, but enjoyed her morning bath of sunshine with blissful tranquillity, her soft eyes smiling the while at the flow and riot of the markets. She had the appearance of a very worthy woman.
"That is your brother's wife, your sister-in-law, Lisa," Gavard said to Florent.
He had saluted her with a slight inclination of the head. Then he darted along the house passage, continuing to take the most minute precautions, and unwilling to let Florent enter the premises through the shop, though there was no one there. It was evident that he felt great pleasure in dabbling in what he considered to be a compromising business.
"Wait here," he said, "while I go to see whether your brother is alone. You can come in when I clap my hands."
Thereupon he opened a door at the end of the passage. But as soon as Florent heard his brother's voice behind it, he sprang inside at a bound. Quenu, who was much attached to him, threw his arms round his neck, and they kissed each other like children.
"Ah! dash it all! Is it really you, my dear fellow?" stammered the pork butcher. "I never expected to see you again. I felt sure you were dead! Why, only yesterday I was saying to Lisa, 'That poor fellow, Florent!'"
However, he stopped short, and popping his head into the shop, called out, "Lisa! Lisa!" Then turning towards a little girl who had crept into a corner, he added, "Pauline, go and find your mother."
The little one did not stir, however. She was an extremely fine child, five years of age, with a plump chubby face, bearing a strong resemblance to that of the pork butcher's wife. In her arms she was holding a huge yellow cat, which had cheerfully surrendered itself to her embrace, with its legs dangling downwards; and she now squeezed it tightly with her little arms, as if she were afraid that yonder shabby-looking gentleman might rob her of it.
Lisa, however, leisurely made her appearance.
"Here is my brother Florent!" exclaimed Quenu.
Lisa addressed him as "Monsieur," and gave him a kindly welcome. She scanned him quietly from head to foot, without evincing any disagreeable surprise. Merely a faint pout appeared for a moment on her lips. Then, standing by, she began to smile at her husband's demonstrations of affection. Quenu, however, at last recovered his calmness, and noticing Florent's fleshless, poverty-stricken appearance, exclaimed: "Ah, my poor fellow, you haven't improved in your looks since you were over yonder. For my part, I've grown fat; but what would you have!"
He had indeed grown fat, too fat for his thirty years. He seemed to be bursting through his shirt and apron, through all the snowy-white linen in which he was swathed like a huge doll. With advancing years his clean-shaven face had become elongated, assuming a faint resemblance to the snout of one of those pigs amidst whose flesh his hands worked and lived the whole day through. Florent scarcely recognised him. He had now seated himself, and his glance turned from his brother to handsome Lisa and little Pauline. They were all brimful of health, squarely built, sleek, in prime condition; and in their turn they looked at Florent with the uneasy astonishment which corpulent people feel at the sight of a scraggy person. The very cat, whose skin was distended by fat, dilated its yellow eyes and scrutinised him with an air of distrust.
"You'll wait till we have breakfast, won't you?" asked Quenu. "We have it early, at ten o'clock."
A penetrating odour of cookery pervaded the place; and Florent looked back upon the terrible night which he had just spent, his arrival amongst the vegetables, his agony in the midst of the markets, the endless avalanches of food from which he had just escaped. And then in a low tone and with a gentle smile he responded:
"No; I'm really very hungry, you see."
Florent had just begun to study law in Paris when his mother died. She lived at Le Vigan, in the department of the Gard, and had taken for her second husband one Quenu, a native of Yvetot in Normandy, whom some sub-prefect had transplanted to the south and then forgotten there. He had remained in employment at the sub-prefecture, finding the country charming, the wine good, and the women very amiable. Three years after his marriage he had been carried off by a bad attack of indigestion, leaving as sole legacy to his wife a sturdy boy who resembled him. It was only with very great difficulty that the widow could pay the college fees of Florent, her elder son, the issue of her first marriage. He was a very gentle youth, devoted to his studies, and constantly won the chief prizes at school. It was upon him that his mother lavished all her affection and based all her hopes. Perhaps, in bestowing so much love on this slim pale youth, she was giving evidence of her preference for her first husband, a tender-hearted, caressing Provencal, who had loved her devotedly. Quenu, whose good humour and amiability had at first attracted her, had perhaps displayed too much self-satisfaction, and shown too plainly that he looked upon himself as the main source of happiness. At all events she formed the opinion that her younger son—and in southern families younger sons are still often sacrificed—would never do any good; so she contented herself with sending him to a school kept by a neighbouring old maid, where the lad learned nothing but how to idle his time away. The two brothers grew up far apart from each other, as though they were strangers.
When Florent arrived at Le Vigan his mother was already buried. She had insisted upon having her illness concealed from him till the very last moment, for fear of disturbing his studies. Thus he found little Quenu, who was then twelve years old, sitting and sobbing alone on a table in the middle of the kitchen. A furniture dealer, a neighbour, gave him particulars of his mother's last hours. She had reached the end of her resources, had killed herself by the hard work which she had undertaken to earn sufficient money that her elder son might continue his legal studies. To her modest trade in ribbons, the profits of which were but small, she had been obliged to add other occupations, which kept her up very late at night. Her one idea of seeing Florent established as an advocate, holding a good position in the town, had gradually caused her to become hard and miserly, without pity for either herself or others. Little Quenu was allowed to wander about in ragged breeches, and in blouses from which the sleeves were falling away. He never dared to serve himself at table, but waited till he received his allowance of bread from his mother's hands. She gave herself equally thin slices, and it was to the effects of this regimen that she had succumbed, in deep despair at having failed to accomplish her self-allotted task.
This story made a most painful impression upon Florent's tender nature, and his sobs wellnigh choked him. He took his little half brother in his arms, held him to his breast, and kissed him as though to restore to him the love of which he had unwittingly deprived him. Then he looked at the lad's gaping shoes, torn sleeves, and dirty hands, at all the manifest signs of wretchedness and neglect. And he told him that he would take him away, and that they would both live happily together. The next day, when he began to inquire into affairs, he felt afraid that he would not be able to keep sufficient money to pay for the journey back to Paris. However, he was determined to leave Le Vigan at any cost. He was fortunately able to sell the little ribbon business, and this enabled him to discharge his mother's debts, for despite her strictness in money matters she had gradually run up bills. Then, as there was nothing left, his mother's neighbour, the furniture dealer, offered him five hundred francs for her chattels and stock of linen. It was a very good bargain for the dealer, but the young man thanked him with tears in his eyes. He bought his brother some new clothes, and took him away that same evening.
On his return to Paris he gave up all thought of continuing to attend the Law School, and postponed every ambitious project. He obtained a few pupils, and established himself with little Quenu in the Rue Royer Collard, at the corner of the Rue Saint Jacques, in a big room which he furnished with two iron bedsteads, a wardrobe, a table, and four chairs. He now had a child to look after, and this assumed paternity was very pleasing to him. During the earlier days he attempted to give the lad some lessons when he returned home in the evening, but Quenu was an unwilling pupil. He was dull of understanding, and refused to learn, bursting into tears and regretfully recalling the time when his mother had allowed him to run wild in the streets. Florent thereupon stopped his lessons in despair, and to console the lad promised him a holiday of indefinite length. As an excuse for his own weakness he repeated that he had not brought his brother to Paris to distress him. To see him grow up in happiness became his chief desire. He quite worshipped the boy, was charmed with his merry laughter, and felt infinite joy in seeing him about him, healthy and vigorous, and without a care. Florent for his part remained very slim and lean in his threadbare coat, and his face began to turn yellow amidst all the drudgery and worry of teaching; but Quenu grew up plump and merry, a little dense, indeed, and scarce able to read or write, but endowed with high spirits which nothing could ruffle, and which filled the big gloomy room in the Rue Royer Collard with gaiety.
Years, meantime, passed by. Florent, who had inherited all his mother's spirit of devotion, kept Quenu at home as though he were a big, idle girl. He did not even suffer him to perform any petty domestic duties, but always went to buy the provisions himself, and attended to the cooking and other necessary matters. This kept him, he said, from indulging in his own bad thoughts. He was given to gloominess, and fancied that he was disposed to evil. When he returned home in the evening, splashed with mud, and his head bowed by the annoyances to which other people's children had subjected him, his heart melted beneath the embrace of the sturdy lad whom he found spinning his top on the tiled flooring of the big room. Quenu laughed at his brother's clumsiness in making omelettes, and at the serious fashion in which he prepared the soup-beef and vegetables. When the lamp was extinguished, and Florent lay in bed, he sometimes gave way to feelings of sadness. He longed to resume his legal studies, and strove to map out his duties in such wise as to secure time to follow the programme of the faculty. He succeeded in doing this, and was then perfectly happy. But a slight attack of fever, which confined him to his room for a week, made such a hole in his purse, and caused him so much alarm, that he abandoned all idea of completing his studies. The boy was now getting a big fellow, and Florent took a post as teacher in a school in the Rue de l'Estrapade, at a salary of eighteen hundred francs per annum. This seemed like a fortune to him. By dint of economy he hoped to be able to amass a sum of money which would set Quenu going in the world. When the lad reached his eighteenth year Florent still treated him as though he were a daughter for whom a dowry must be provided.
However, during his brother's brief illness Quenu himself had made certain reflections. One morning he proclaimed his desire to work, saying that he was now old enough to earn his own living. Florent was deeply touched at this. Just opposite, on the other side of the street, lived a working watchmaker whom Quenu, through the curtainless window, could see leaning over a little table, manipulating all sorts of delicate things, and patiently gazing at them through a magnifying glass all day long. The lad was much attracted by the sight, and declared that he had a taste for watchmaking. At the end of a fortnight, however, he became restless, and began to cry like a child of ten, complaining that the work was too complicated, and that he would never be able to understand all the silly little things that enter into the construction of a watch.
His next whim was to be a locksmith; but this calling he found too fatiguing. In a couple of years he tried more than ten different trades. Florent opined that he acted rightly, that it was wrong to take up a calling one did not like. However, Quenu's fine eagerness to work for his living strained the resources of the little establishment very seriously. Since he had begun flitting from one workshop to another there had been a constant succession of fresh expenses; money had gone in new clothes, in meals taken away from home, and in the payment of footings among fellow workmen. Florent's salary of eighteen hundred francs was no longer sufficient, and he was obliged to take a couple of pupils in the evenings. For eight years he had continued to wear the same old coat.
However, the two brothers had made a friend. One side of the house in which they lived overlooked the Rue Saint Jacques, where there was a large poultry-roasting establishment[*] kept by a worthy man called Gavard, whose wife was dying from consumption amidst an atmosphere redolent of plump fowls. When Florent returned home too late to cook a scrap of meat, he was in the habit of laying out a dozen sous or so on a small portion of turkey or goose at this shop. Such days were feast days. Gavard in time grew interested in this tall, scraggy customer, learned his history, and invited Quenu into his shop. Before long the young fellow was constantly to be found there. As soon as his brother left the house he came downstairs and installed himself at the rear of the roasting shop, quite enraptured with the four huge spits which turned with a gentle sound in front of the tall bright flames.
[*] These rotisseries, now all but extinct, were at one time a particular feature of the Parisian provision trade. I can myself recollect several akin to the one described by M. Zola. I suspect that they largely owed their origin to the form and dimensions of the ordinary Parisian kitchen stove, which did not enable people to roast poultry at home in a convenient way. In the old French cuisine, moreover, roast joints of meat were virtually unknown; roasting was almost entirely confined to chickens, geese, turkeys, pheasants, etc.; and among the middle classes people largely bought their poultry already cooked of the rotisseur, or else confided it to him for the purpose of roasting, in the same way as our poorer classes still send their joints to the baker's. Roasting was also long looked upon in France as a very delicate art. Brillat-Savarin, in his famous Physiologie du Gout, lays down the dictum that "A man may become a cook, but is born a rotisseur."—Translator.
The broad copper bands of the fireplace glistened brightly, the poultry steamed, the fat bubbled melodiously in the dripping-pan, and the spits seemed to talk amongst themselves and to address kindly words to Quenu, who, with a long ladle, devoutly basted the golden breasts of the fat geese and turkeys. He would stay there for hours, quite crimson in the dancing glow of the flames, and laughing vaguely, with a somewhat stupid expression, at the birds roasting in front of him. Indeed, he did not awake from this kind of trance until the geese and turkeys were unspitted. They were placed on dishes, the spits emerged from their carcasses smoking hot, and a rich gravy flowed from either end and filled the shop with a penetrating odour. Then the lad, who, standing up, had eagerly followed every phase of the dishing, would clap his hands and begin to talk to the birds, telling them that they were very nice, and would be eaten up, and that the cats would have nothing but their bones. And he would give a start of delight whenever Gavard handed him a slice of bread, which he forthwith put into the dripping-pan that it might soak and toast there for half an hour.
It was in this shop, no doubt, that Quenu's love of cookery took its birth. Later on, when he had tried all sorts of crafts, he returned, as though driven by fate, to the spits and the poultry and the savoury gravy which induces one to lick one's fingers. At first he was afraid of vexing his brother, who was a small eater and spoke of good fare with the disdain of a man who is ignorant of it; but afterwards, on seeing that Florent listened to him when he explained the preparation of some very elaborate dish, he confessed his desires and presently found a situation at a large restaurant. From that time forward the life of the two brothers was settled. They continued to live in the room in the Rue Royer Collard, whither they returned every evening; the one glowing and radiant from his hot fire, the other with the depressed countenance of a shabby, impecunious teacher. Florent still wore his old black coat, as he sat absorbed in correcting his pupils' exercises; while Quenu, to put himself more at ease, donned his white apron, cap, and jacket, and, flitting about in front of the stove, amused himself by baking some dainty in the oven. Sometimes they smiled at seeing themselves thus attired, the one all in black, the other all in white. These different garbs, one bright and the other sombre, seemed to make the big room half gay and half mournful. Never, however, was there so much harmony in a household marked by such dissimilarity. Though the elder brother grew thinner and thinner, consumed by the ardent temperament which he had inherited from his Provencal father, and the younger one waxed fatter and fatter like a true son of Normandy, they loved each other in the brotherhood they derived from their mother—a mother who had been all devotion.
They had a relation in Paris, a brother of their mother's, one Gradelle, who was in business as a pork butcher in the Rue Pirouette, near the central markets. He was a fat, hard-hearted, miserly fellow, and received his nephews as though they were starving paupers the first time they paid him a visit. They seldom went to see him afterwards. On his nameday Quenu would take him a bunch of flowers, and receive a half-franc piece in return for it. Florent's proud and sensitive nature suffered keenly when Gradelle scrutinised his shabby clothes with the anxious, suspicious glance of a miser apprehending a request for a dinner, or the loan of a five-franc piece. One day, however, it occurred to Florent in all artlessness to ask his uncle to change a hundred-franc note for him, and after this the pork butcher showed less alarm at sight of the lads, as he called them. Still, their friendship got no further than these infrequent visits.
These years were like a long, sweet, sad dream to Florent. As they passed he tasted to the full all the bitter joys of self-sacrifice. At home, in the big room, life was all love and tenderness; but out in the world, amidst the humiliations inflicted on him by his pupils, and the rough jostling of the streets, he felt himself yielding to wicked thoughts. His slain ambitions embittered him. It was long before he could bring himself to bow to his fate, and accept with equanimity the painful lot of a poor, plain, commonplace man. At last, to guard against the temptations of wickedness, he plunged into ideal goodness, and sought refuge in a self-created sphere of absolute truth and justice. It was then that he became a republican, entering into the republican idea even as heart-broken girls enter a convent. And not finding a republic where sufficient peace and kindliness prevailed to lull his troubles to sleep, he created one for himself. He took no pleasure in books. All the blackened paper amidst which he lived spoke of evil-smelling class-rooms, of pellets of paper chewed by unruly schoolboys, of long, profitless hours of torture. Besides, books only suggested to him a spirit of mutiny and pride, whereas it was of peace and oblivion that he felt most need. To lull and soothe himself with the ideal imaginings, to dream that he was perfectly happy, and that all the world would likewise become so, to erect in his brain the republican city in which he would fain have lived, such now became his recreation, the task, again and again renewed, of all his leisure hours. He no longer read any books beyond those which his duties compelled him to peruse; he preferred to tramp along the Rue Saint Jacques as far as the outer boulevards, occasionally going yet a greater distance and returning by the Barriere d'Italie; and all along the road, with his eyes on the Quartier Mouffetard spread out at his feet, he would devise reforms of great moral and humanitarian scope, such as he thought would change that city of suffering into an abode of bliss. During the turmoil of February 1848, when Paris was stained with blood he became quite heartbroken, and rushed from one to another of the public clubs demanding that the blood which had been shed should find atonement in "the fraternal embrace of all republicans throughout the world." He became one of those enthusiastic orators who preached revolution as a new religion, full of gentleness and salvation. The terrible days of December 1851, the days of the Coup d'Etat, were required to wean him from his doctrines of universal love. He was then without arms; allowed himself to be captured like a sheep, and was treated as though he were a wolf. He awoke from his sermon on universal brotherhood to find himself starving on the cold stones of a casemate at Bicetre.
Quenu, when two and twenty, was distressed with anguish when his brother did not return home. On the following day he went to seek his corpse at the cemetery of Montmartre, where the bodies of those shot down on the boulevards had been laid out in a line and covered with straw, from beneath which only their ghastly heads projected. However, Quenu's courage failed him, he was blinded by his tears, and had to pass twice along the line of corpses before acquiring the certainty that Florent's was not among them. At last, at the end of a long and wretched week, he learned at the Prefecture of Police that his brother was a prisoner. He was not allowed to see him, and when he pressed the matter the police threatened to arrest him also. Then he hastened off to his uncle Gradelle, whom he looked upon as a person of importance, hoping that he might be able to enlist his influence in Florent's behalf. But Gradelle waxed wrathful, declared that Florent deserved his fate, that he ought to have known better than to have mixed himself up with those rascally republicans. And he even added that Florent was destined to turn out badly, that it was written on his face.
Quenu wept copiously and remained there, almost choked by his sobs. His uncle, a little ashamed of his harshness, and feeling that he ought to do something for him, offered to receive him into his house. He wanted an assistant, and knew that his nephew was a good cook. Quenu was so much alarmed by the mere thought of going back to live alone in the big room in the Rue Royer Collard, that then and there he accepted Gradelle's offer. That same night he slept in his uncle's house, in a dark hole of a garret just under the room, where there was scarcely space for him to lie at full length. However, he was less wretched there than he would have been opposite his brother's empty couch.
He succeeded at length in obtaining permission to see Florent; but on his return from Bicetre he was obliged to take to his bed. For nearly three weeks he lay fever-stricken, in a stupefied, comatose state. Gradelle meantime called down all sorts of maledictions on his republican nephew; and one morning, when he heard of Florent's departure for Cayenne, he went upstairs, tapped Quenu on the hands, awoke him, and bluntly told him the news, thereby bringing about such a reaction that on the following day the young man was up and about again. His grief wore itself out, and his soft flabby flesh seemed to absorb his tears. A month later he laughed again, and then grew vexed and unhappy with himself for having been merry; but his natural light-heartedness soon gained the mastery, and he laughed afresh in unconscious happiness.
He now learned his uncle's business, from which he derived even more enjoyment than from cookery. Gradelle told him, however, that he must not neglect his pots and pans, that it was rare to find a pork butcher who was also a good cook, and that he had been lucky in serving in a restaurant before coming to the shop. Gradelle, moreover, made full use of his nephew's acquirements, employed him to cook the dinners sent out to certain customers, and placed all the broiling, and the preparation of pork chops garnished with gherkins in his special charge. As the young man was of real service to him, he grew fond of him after his own fashion, and would nip his plump arms when he was in a good humour. Gradelle had sold the scanty furniture of the room in the Rue Royer Collard and retained possession of the proceeds—some forty francs or so—in order, said he, to prevent the foolish lad, Quenu, from making ducks and drakes of the cash. After a time, however, he allowed his nephew six francs a month a pocket-money.
Quenu now became quite happy, in spite of the emptiness of his purse and the harshness with which he was occasionally treated. He liked to have life doled out to him; Florent had treated him too much like an indolent girl. Moreover, he had made a friend at his uncle's. Gradelle, when his wife died, had been obliged to engage a girl to attend to the shop, and had taken care to choose a healthy and attractive one, knowing that a good-looking girl would set off his viands and help to tempt custom. Amongst his acquaintances was a widow, living in the Rue Cuvier, near the Jardin des Plantes, whose deceased husband had been postmaster at Plassans, the seat of a sub-prefecture in the south of France. This lady, who lived in a very modest fashion on a small annuity, had brought with her from Plassans a plump, pretty child, whom she treated as her own daughter. Lisa, as the young one was called, attended upon her with much placidity and serenity of disposition. Somewhat seriously inclined, she looked quite beautiful when she smiled. Indeed, her great charm came from the exquisite manner in which she allowed this infrequent smile of hers to escape her. Her eyes then became most caressing, and her habitual gravity imparted inestimable value to these sudden, seductive flashes. The old lady had often said that one of Lisa's smiles would suffice to lure her to perdition.
When the widow died she left all her savings, amounting to some ten thousand francs, to her adopted daughter. For a week Lisa lived alone in the Rue Cuvier; it was there that Gradelle came in search of her. He had become acquainted with her by often seeing her with her mistress when the latter called on him in the Rue Pirouette; and at the funeral she had struck him as having grown so handsome and sturdy that he had followed the hearse all the way to the cemetery, though he had not intended to do so. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave, he reflected what a splendid girl she would be for the counter of a pork butcher's shop. He thought the matter over, and finally resolved to offer her thirty francs a month, with board and lodging. When he made this proposal, Lisa asked for twenty-four hours to consider it. Then she arrived one morning with a little bundle of clothes, and her ten thousand francs concealed in the bosom of her dress. A month later the whole place belonged to her; she enslaved Gradelle, Quenu, and even the smallest kitchen-boy. For his part, Quenu would have cut off his fingers to please her. When she happened to smile, he remained rooted to the floor, laughing with delight as he gazed at her.
Lisa was the eldest daughter of the Macquarts of Plassans, and her father was still alive.[*] But she said that he was abroad, and never wrote to him. Sometimes she just dropped a hint that her mother, now deceased, had been a hard worker, and that she took after her. She worked, indeed, very assiduously. However, she sometimes added that the worthy woman had slaved herself to death in striving to support her family. Then she would speak of the respective duties of husband and wife in such a practical though modest fashion as to enchant Quenu. He assured her that he fully shared her ideas. These were that everyone, man or woman, ought to work for his or her living, that everyone was charged with the duty of achieving personal happiness, that great harm was done by encouraging habits of idleness, and that the presence of so much misery in the world was greatly due to sloth. This theory of hers was a sweeping condemnation of drunkenness, of all the legendary loafing ways of her father Macquart. But, though she did not know it, there was much of Macquart's nature in herself. She was merely a steady, sensible Macquart with a logical desire for comfort, having grasped the truth of the proverb that as you make your bed so you lie on it. To sleep in blissful warmth there is no better plan than to prepare oneself a soft and downy couch; and to the preparation of such a couch she gave all her time and all her thoughts. When no more than six years old she had consented to remain quietly on her chair the whole day through on condition that she should be rewarded with a cake in the evening.
[*] See M. Zola's novel, The Fortune of the Rougons.—Translator
At Gradelle's establishment Lisa went on leading the calm, methodical life which her exquisite smiles illumined. She had not accepted the pork butcher's offer at random. She reckoned upon finding a guardian in him; with the keen scent of those who are born lucky she perhaps foresaw that the gloomy shop in the Rue Pirouette would bring her the comfortable future she dreamed of—a life of healthy enjoyment, and work without fatigue, each hour of which would bring its own reward. She attended to her counter with the quiet earnestness with which she had waited upon the postmaster's widow; and the cleanliness of her aprons soon became proverbial in the neighbourhood. Uncle Gradelle was so charmed with this pretty girl that sometimes, as he was stringing his sausages, he would say to Quenu: "Upon my word, if I weren't turned sixty, I think I should be foolish enough to marry her. A wife like she'd make is worth her weight in gold to a shopkeeper, my lad."
Quenu himself was growing still fonder of her, though he laughed merrily one day when a neighbour accused him of being in love with Lisa. He was not worried with love-sickness. The two were very good friends, however. In the evening they went up to their bedrooms together. Lisa slept in a little chamber adjoining the dark hole which the young man occupied. She had made this room of hers quite bright by hanging it with muslin curtains. The pair would stand together for a moment on the landing, holding their candles in their hands, and chatting as they unlocked their doors. Then, as they closed them, they said in friendly tones:
"Good night, Mademoiselle Lisa."
"Good night, Monsieur Quenu."
As Quenu undressed himself he listened to Lisa making her own preparations. The partition between the two rooms was very thin. "There, she is drawing her curtains now," he would say to himself; "what can she be doing, I wonder, in front of her chest of drawers? Ah! she's sitting down now and taking off her shoes. Now she's blown her candle out. Well, good night. I must get to sleep"; and at times, when he heard her bed creak as she got into it, he would say to himself with a smile, "Dash it all! Mademoiselle Lisa is no feather." This idea seemed to amuse him, and presently he would fall asleep thinking about the hams and salt pork that he had to prepare the next morning.
This state of affairs went on for a year without causing Lisa a single blush or Quenu a moment's embarrassment. When the girl came into the kitchen in the morning at the busiest moment of the day's work, they grasped hands over the dishes of sausage-meat. Sometimes she helped him, holding the skins with her plump fingers while he filled them with meat and fat. Sometimes, too, with the tips of their tongues they just tasted the raw sausage-meat, to see if it was properly seasoned. She was able to give Quenu some useful hints, for she knew of many favourite southern recipes, with which he experimented with much success. He was often aware that she was standing behind his shoulder, prying into the pans. If he wanted a spoon or a dish, she would hand it to him. The heat of the fire would bring their blood to their skins; still, nothing in the world would have induced the young man to cease stirring the fatty bouillis which were thickening over the fire while the girl stood gravely by him, discussing the amount of boiling that was necessary. In the afternoon, when the shop lacked customers, they quietly chatted together for hours at a time. Lisa sat behind the counter, leaning back, and knitting in an easy, regular fashion; while Quenu installed himself on a big oak block, dangling his legs and tapping his heels against the wood. They got on wonderfully well together, discussing all sorts of subjects, generally cookery, and then Uncle Gradelle and the neighbours. Lisa also amused the young man with stories, just as though he were a child. She knew some very pretty ones—some miraculous legends, full of lambs and little angels, which she narrated in a piping voice, with all her wonted seriousness. If a customer happened to come in, she saved herself the trouble of moving by asking Quenu to get the required pot of lard or box of snails. And at eleven o'clock they went slowly up to bed as on the previous night. As they closed their doors, they calmly repeated the words:
"Good night, Mademoiselle Lisa."
"Good night, Monsieur Quenu."
One morning Uncle Gradelle was struck dead by apoplexy while preparing a galantine. He fell forward, with his face against the chopping-block. Lisa did not lose her self-possession. She remarked that the dead man could not be left lying in the middle of the kitchen, and had the body removed into a little back room where Gradelle had slept. Then she arranged with the assistants what should be said. It must be given out that the master had died in his bed; otherwise the whole district would be disgusted, and the shop would lose its customers. Quenu helped to carry the dead man away, feeling quite confused, and astonished at being unable to shed any tears. Presently, however, he and Lisa cried together. Quenu and his brother Florent were the sole heirs. The gossips of the neighbourhood credited old Gradelle with the possession of a considerable fortune. However, not a single crown could be discovered. Lisa seemed very restless and uneasy. Quenu noticed how pensive she became, how she kept on looking around her from morning till night, as though she had lost something. At last she decided to have a thorough cleaning of the premises, declaring that people were beginning to talk, that the story of the old man's death had got about, and that it was necessary they should make a great show of cleanliness. One afternoon, after remaining in the cellar for a couple of hours, whither she herself had gone to wash the salting-tubs, she came up again, carrying something in her apron. Quenu was just then cutting up a pig's fry. She waited till he had finished, talking awhile in an easy, indifferent fashion. But there was an unusual glitter in her eyes, and she smiled her most charming smile as she told him that she wanted to speak to him. She led the way upstairs with seeming difficulty, impeded by what she had in her apron, which was strained almost to bursting.
By the time she reached the third floor she found herself short of breath, and for a moment was obliged to lean against the balustrade. Quenu, much astonished, followed her into her bedroom without saying a word. It was the first time she had ever invited him to enter it. She closed the door, and letting go the corners of her apron, which her stiffened fingers could no longer hold up, she allowed a stream of gold and silver coins to flow gently upon her bed. She had discovered Uncle Gradelle's treasure at the bottom of a salting-tub. The heap of money made a deep impression in the softy downy bed.
Lisa and Quenu evinced a quiet delight. They sat down on the edge of the bed, Lisa at the head and Quenu at the foot, on either side of the heap of coins, and they counted the money out upon the counterpane, so as to avoid making any noise. There were forty thousand francs in gold, and three thousand francs in silver, whilst in a tin box they found bank notes to the value of forty-two thousand francs. It took them two hours to count up the treasure. Quenu's hands trembled slightly, and it was Lisa who did most of the work.
They arranged the gold on the pillow in little heaps, leaving the silver in the hollow depression of the counterpane. When they had ascertained the total amount—eighty-five thousand francs, to them an enormous sum—they began to chat. And their conversation naturally turned upon their future, and they spoke of their marriage, although there had never been any previous mention of love between them. But this heap of money seemed to loosen their tongues. They had gradually seated themselves further back on the bed, leaning against the wall, beneath the white muslin curtains; and as they talked together, their hands, playing with the heap of silver between them, met, and remained linked amidst the pile of five-franc pieces. Twilight surprised them still sitting together. Then, for the first time, Lisa blushed at finding the young man by her side. For a few moments, indeed, although not a thought of evil had come to them, they felt much embarrassed. Then Lisa went to get her own ten thousand francs. Quenu wanted her to put them with his uncle's savings. He mixed the two sums together, saying with a laugh that the money must be married also. Then it was agreed that Lisa should keep the hoard in her chest of drawers. When she had locked it up they both quietly went downstairs. They were now practically husband and wife.
The wedding took place during the following month. The neighbours considered the match a very natural one, and in every way suitable. They had vaguely heard the story of the treasure, and Lisa's honesty was the subject of endless eulogy. After all, said the gossips, she might well have kept the money herself, and not have spoken a word to Quenu about it; if she had spoken, it was out of pure honesty, for no one had seen her find the hoard. She well deserved, they added, that Quenu should make her his wife. That Quenu, by the way, was a lucky fellow; he wasn't a beauty himself, yet he had secured a beautiful wife, who had disinterred a fortune for him. Some even went so far as to whisper that Lisa was a simpleton for having acted as she had done; but the young woman only smiled when people speaking to her vaguely alluded to all these things. She and her husband lived on as previously, in happy placidity and quiet affection. She still assisted him as before, their hands still met amidst the sausage-meat, she still glanced over his shoulder into the pots and pans, and still nothing but the great fire in the kitchen brought the blood to their cheeks.
However, Lisa was a woman of practical common sense, and speedily saw the folly of allowing eighty-five thousand francs to lie idle in a chest of drawers. Quenu would have willingly stowed them away again at the bottom of the salting-tub until he had gained as much more, when they could have retired from business and have gone to live at Suresnes, a suburb to which both were partial. Lisa, however, had other ambitions. The Rue Pirouette did not accord with her ideas of cleanliness, her craving for fresh air, light, and healthy life. The shop where Uncle Gradelle had accumulated his fortune, sou by sou, was a long, dark place, one of those suspicious looking pork butchers' shops of the old quarters of the city, where the well-worn flagstones retain a strong odour of meat in spite of constant washings. Now the young woman longed for one of those bright modern shops, ornamented like a drawing-room, and fringing the footway of some broad street with windows of crystalline transparence. She was not actuated by any petty ambition to play the fine lady behind a stylish counter, but clearly realised that commerce in its latest development needed elegant surroundings. Quenu showed much alarm the first time his wife suggested that they ought to move and spend some of their money in decorating a new shop. However, Lisa only shrugged her shoulders and smiled at finding him so timorous.
One evening, when night was falling and the shop had grown dark, Quenu and Lisa overheard a woman of the neighbourhood talking to a friend outside their door.
"No, indeed! I've given up dealing with them," said she. "I wouldn't buy a bit of black-pudding from them now on any account. They had a dead man in their kitchen, you know."
Quenu wept with vexation. The story of Gradelle's death in the kitchen was clearly getting about; and his nephew began to blush before his customers when he saw them sniffing his wares too closely. So, of his own accord, he spoke to his wife of her proposal to take a new shop. Lisa, without saying anything, had already been looking out for other premises, and had found some, admirably situated, only a few yards away, in the Rue Rambuteau. The immediate neighbourhood of the central markets, which were being opened just opposite, would triple their business, and make their shop known all over Paris.
Quenu allowed himself to be drawn into a lavish expenditure of money; he laid out over thirty thousand francs in marble, glass, and gilding. Lisa spent hours with the workmen, giving her views about the slightest details. When she was at last installed behind the counter, customers arrived in a perfect procession, merely for the sake of examining the shop. The inside walls were lined from top to bottom with white marble. The ceiling was covered with a huge square mirror, framed by a broad gilded cornice, richly ornamented, whilst from the centre hung a crystal chandelier with four branches. And behind the counter, and on the left, and at the far end of the shop were other mirrors, fitted between the marble panels and looking like doors opening into an infinite series of brightly lighted halls, where all sorts of appetising edibles were displayed. The huge counter on the right hand was considered a very fine piece of work. At intervals along the front were lozenge-shaped panels of pinky marble. The flooring was of tiles, alternately white and pink, with a deep red fretting as border. The whole neighbourhood was proud of the shop, and no one again thought of referring to the kitchen in the Rue Pirouette, where a man had died. For quite a month women stopped short on the footway to look at Lisa between the saveloys and bladders in the window. Her white and pink flesh excited as much admiration as the marbles. She seemed to be the soul, the living light, the healthy, sturdy idol of the pork trade; and thenceforth one and all baptised her "Lisa the beauty."
To the right of the shop was the dining-room, a neat looking apartment containing a sideboard, a table, and several cane-seated chairs of light oak. The matting on the floor, the wallpaper of a soft yellow tint, the oil-cloth table-cover, coloured to imitate oak, gave the room a somewhat cold appearance, which was relieved only by the glitter of a brass hanging lamp, suspended from the ceiling, and spreading its big shade of transparent porcelain over the table. One of the dining-room doors opened into the huge square kitchen, at the end of which was a small paved courtyard, serving for the storage of lumber—tubs, barrels and pans, and all kinds of utensils not in use. To the left of the water-tap, alongside the gutter which carried off the greasy water, stood pots of faded flowers, removed from the shop window, and slowly dying.
Business was excellent. Quenu, who had been much alarmed by the initial outlay, now regarded his wife with something like respect, and told his friends that she had "a wonderful head." At the end of five years they had nearly eighty thousand francs invested in the State funds. Lisa would say that they were not ambitious, that they had no desire to pile up money too quickly, or else she would have enabled her husband to gain hundreds and thousands of francs by prompting him to embark in the wholesale pig trade. But they were still young, and had plenty of time before them; besides, they didn't care about a rough, scrambling business, but preferred to work at their ease, and enjoy life, instead of wearing themselves out with endless anxieties.
"For instance," Lisa would add in her expansive moments, "I have, you know, a cousin in Paris. I never see him, as the two families have fallen out. He has taken the name of Saccard,[*] on account of certain matters which he wants to be forgotten. Well, this cousin of mine, I'm told, makes millions and millions of francs; but he gets no enjoyment out of life. He's always in a state of feverish excitement, always rushing hither and thither, up to his neck in all sorts of worrying business. Well, it's impossible, isn't it, for such a man to eat his dinner peaceably in the evening? We, at any rate, can take our meals comfortably, and make sure of what we eat, and we are not harassed by worries as he is. The only reason why people should care for money is that money's wanted for one to live. People like comfort; that's natural. But as for making money simply for the sake of making it, and giving yourself far more trouble and anxiety to gain it than you can ever get pleasure from it when it's gained, why, as for me, I'd rather sit still and cross my arms. And besides, I should like to see all those millions of my cousin's. I can't say that I altogether believe in them. I caught sight of him the other day in his carriage. He was quite yellow, and looked ever so sly. A man who's making money doesn't have that kind of expression. But it's his business, and not mine. For our part, we prefer to make merely a hundred sous at a time, and to get a hundred sous' worth of enjoyment out of them."
[*] See M. Zola's novel, Money.
The household was undoubtedly thriving. A daughter had been born to the young couple during their first year of wedlock, and all three of them looked blooming. The business went on prosperously, without any laborious fatigue, just as Lisa desired. She had carefully kept free of any possible source of trouble or anxiety, and the days went by in an atmosphere of peaceful, unctuous prosperity. Their home was a nook of sensible happiness—a comfortable manger, so to speak, where father, mother, and daughter could grow sleek and fat. It was only Quenu who occasionally felt sad, through thinking of his brother Florent. Up to the year 1856 he had received letters from him at long intervals. Then no more came, and he had learned from a newspaper that three convicts having attempted to escape from the Ile du Diable, had been drowned before they were able to reach the mainland. He had made inquiries at the Prefecture of Police, but had not learnt anything definite; it seemed probable that his brother was dead. However, he did not lose all hope, though months passed without any tidings. Florent, in the meantime, was wandering about Dutch Guiana, and refrained from writing home as he was ever in hope of being able to return to France. Quenu at last began to mourn for him as one mourns for those whom one has been unable to bid farewell. Lisa had never known Florent, but she spoke very kindly whenever she saw her husband give way to his sorrow; and she evinced no impatience when for the hundredth time or so he began to relate stories of his early days, of his life in the big room in the Rue Royer Collard, the thirty-six trades which he had taken up one after another, and the dainties which he had cooked at the stove, dressed all in white, while Florent was dressed all in black. To such talk as this, indeed, she listened placidly, with a complacency which never wearied.
It was into the midst of all this happiness, ripening after careful culture, that Florent dropped one September morning just as Lisa was taking her matutinal bath of sunshine, and Quenu, with his eyes still heavy with sleep, was lazily applying his fingers to the congealed fat left in the pans from the previous evening. Florent's arrival caused a great commotion. Gavard advised them to conceal the "outlaw," as he somewhat pompously called Florent. Lisa, who looked pale, and more serious than was her wont, at last took him to the fifth floor, where she gave him the room belonging to the girl who assisted her in the shop. Quenu had cut some slices of bread and ham, but Florent was scarcely able to eat. He was overcome by dizziness and nausea, and went to bed, where he remained for five days in a state of delirium, the outcome of an attack of brain-fever, which fortunately received energetic treatment. When he recovered consciousness he perceived Lisa sitting by his bedside, silently stirring some cooling drink in a cup. As he tried to thank her, she told him that he must keep perfectly quiet, and that they could talk together later on. At the end of another three days Florent was on his feet again. Then one morning Quenu went up to tell him that Lisa awaited them in her room on the first floor.
Quenu and his wife there occupied a suite of three rooms and a dressing-room. You first passed through an antechamber, containing nothing but chairs, and then a small sitting-room, whose furniture, shrouded in white covers, slumbered in the gloom cast by the Venetian shutters, which were always kept closed so as to prevent the light blue of the upholstery from fading. Then came the bedroom, the only one of the three which was really used. It was very comfortably furnished in mahogany. The bed, bulky and drowsy of aspect in the depths of the damp alcove, was really wonderful, with its four mattresses, its four pillows, its layers of blankets, and its corpulent edredon. It was evidently a bed intended for slumber. A mirrored wardrobe, a washstand with drawers, a small central table with a worked cover, and several chairs whose seats were protected by squares of lace, gave the room an aspect of plain but substantial middle-class luxury. On the left-hand wall, on either side of the mantelpiece, which was ornamented with some landscape-painted vases mounted on bronze stands, and a gilt timepiece on which a figure of Gutenberg, also gilt, stood in an attitude of deep thought, hung portraits in oils of Quenu and Lisa, in ornate oval frames. Quenu had a smiling face, while Lisa wore an air of grave propriety; and both were dressed in black and depicted in flattering fashion, their features idealised, their skins wondrously smooth, their complexions soft and pinky. A carpet, in the Wilton style, with a complicated pattern of roses mingling with stars, concealed the flooring; while in front of the bed was a fluffy mat, made out of long pieces of curly wool, a work of patience at which Lisa herself had toiled while seated behind her counter. But the most striking object of all in the midst of this array of new furniture was a great square, thick-set secretaire, which had been re-polished in vain, for the cracks and notches in the marble top and the scratches on the old mahogany front, quite black with age, still showed plainly. Lisa had desired to retain this piece of furniture, however, as Uncle Gradelle had used it for more than forty years. It would bring them good luck, she said. It's metal fastenings were truly something terrible, it's lock was like that of a prison gate, and it was so heavy that it could scarcely be moved.
When Florent and Quenu entered the room they found Lisa seated at the lowered desk of the secretaire, writing and putting down figures in a big, round, and very legible hand. She signed to them not to disturb her, and the two men sat down. Florent looked round the room, and notably at the two portraits, the bed and the timepiece, with an air of surprise.
"There!" at last exclaimed Lisa, after having carefully verified a whole page of calculations. "Listen to me now; we have an account to render to you, my dear Florent."
It was the first time that she had so addressed him. However, taking up the page of figures, she continued: "Your Uncle Gradelle died without leaving a will. Consequently you and your brother are his sole heirs. We now have to hand your share over to you."
"But I do not ask you for anything!" exclaimed Florent, "I don't wish for anything!"
Quenu had apparently been in ignorance of his wife's intentions. He turned rather pale and looked at her with an expression of displeasure. Of course, he certainly loved his brother dearly; but there was no occasion to hurl his uncle's money at him in this way. There would have been plenty of time to go into the matter later on.
"I know very well, my dear Florent," continued Lisa, "that you did not come back with the intention of claiming from us what belongs to you; but business is business, you know, and we had better get things settled at once. Your uncle's savings amounted to eighty-five thousand francs. I have therefore put down forty-two thousand five hundred to your credit. See!"
She showed him the figures on the sheet of paper.
"It is unfortunately not so easy to value the shop, plant, stock-in-trade, and goodwill. I have only been able to put down approximate amounts, but I don't think I have underestimated anything. Well, the total valuation which I have made comes to fifteen thousand three hundred and ten francs; your half of which is seven thousand six hundred and fifty-five francs, so that your share amounts, in all, to fifty thousand one hundred and fifty-five francs. Please verify it for yourself, will you?"
She had called out the figures in a clear, distinct voice, and she now handed the paper to Florent, who was obliged to take it.
"But the old man's business was certainly never worth fifteen thousand francs!" cried Quenu. "Why, I wouldn't have given ten thousand for it!"
He had ended by getting quite angry with his wife. Really, it was absurd to carry honesty to such a point as that! Had Florent said one word about the business? No, indeed, he had declared that he didn't wish for anything.
"The business was worth fifteen thousand three hundred and ten francs," Lisa re-asserted, calmly. "You will agree with me, my dear Florent, that it is quite unnecessary to bring a lawyer into our affairs. It is for us to arrange the division between ourselves, since you have now turned up again. I naturally thought of this as soon as you arrived; and, while you were in bed with the fever, I did my best to draw up this little inventory. It contains, as you see, a fairly complete statement of everything. I have been through our old books, and have called up my memory to help me. Read it aloud, and I will give you any additional information you may want."
Florent ended by smiling. He was touched by this easy and, as it were, natural display of probity. Placing the sheet of figures on the young woman's knee, he took hold of her hand and said, "I am very glad, my dear Lisa, to hear that you are prosperous, but I will not take your money. The heritage belongs to you and my brother, who took care of my uncle up to the last. I don't require anything, and I don't intend to hamper you in carrying on your business."
Lisa insisted, and even showed some vexation, while Quenu gnawed his thumbs in silence to restrain himself.
"Ah!" resumed Florent with a laugh, "if Uncle Gradelle could hear you, I think he'd come back and take the money away again. I was never a favourite of his, you know."
"Well, no," muttered Quenu, no longer able to keep still, "he certainly wasn't over fond of you."
Lisa, however, still pressed the matter. She did not like to have money in her secretaire that did not belong to her; it would worry her, said she; the thought of it would disturb her peace. Thereupon Florent, still in a joking way, proposed to invest his share in the business. Moreover, said he, he did not intend to refuse their help; he would, no doubt, be unable to find employment all at once; and then, too, he would need a complete outfit, for he was scarcely presentable.
"Of course," cried Quenu, "you will board and lodge with us, and we will buy you all that you want. That's understood. You know very well that we are not likely to leave you in the streets, I hope!"
He was quite moved now, and even felt a trifle ashamed of the alarm he had experienced at the thought of having to hand over a large amount of money all at once. He began to joke, and told his brother that he would undertake to fatten him. Florent gently shook his hand; while Lisa folded up the sheet of figures and put it away in a drawer of the secretaire.
"You are wrong," she said by way of conclusion. "I have done what I was bound to do. Now it shall be as you wish. But, for my part, I should never have had a moment's peace if I had not put things before you. Bad thoughts would quite upset me."
They then began to speak of another matter. It would be necessary to give some reason for Florent's presence, and at the same time avoid exciting the suspicion of the police. He told them that in order to return to France he had availed himself of the papers of a poor fellow who had died in his arms at Surinam from yellow fever. By a singular coincidence this young fellow's Christian name was Florent.
Florent Laquerriere, to give him his name in full, had left but one relation in Paris, a female cousin, and had been informed of her death while in America. Nothing could therefore be easier than for Quenu's half brother to pass himself off as the man who had died at Surinam. Lisa offered to take upon herself the part of the female cousin. They then agreed to relate that their cousin Florent had returned from abroad, where he had failed in his attempts to make a fortune, and that they, the Quenu-Gradelles, as they were called in the neighbourhood, had received him into their house until he could find suitable employment. When this was all settled, Quenu insisted upon his brother making a thorough inspection of the rooms, and would not spare him the examination of a single stool. Whilst they were in the bare looking chamber containing nothing but chairs, Lisa pushed open a door, and showing Florent a small dressing room, told him that the shop girl should sleep in it, so that he could retain the bedroom on the fifth floor.
In the evening Florent was arrayed in new clothes from head to foot. He had insisted upon again having a black coat and black trousers, much against the advice of Quenu, upon whom black had a depressing effect. No further attempts were made to conceal his presence in the house, and Lisa told the story which had been planned to everyone who cared to hear it. Henceforth Florent spent almost all his time on the premises, lingering on a chair in the kitchen or leaning against the marble-work in the shop. At meal times Quenu plied him with food, and evinced considerable vexation when he proved such a small eater and left half the contents of his liberally filled plate untouched. Lisa had resumed her old life, evincing a kindly tolerance of her brother-in-law's presence, even in the morning, when he somewhat interfered with the work. Then she would momentarily forget him, and on suddenly perceiving his black form in front of her give a slight start of surprise, followed, however, by one of her sweet smiles, lest he might feel at all hurt. This skinny man's disinterestedness had impressed her, and she regarded him with a feeling akin to respect, mingled with vague fear. Florent had for his part only felt that there was great affection around him.
When bedtime came he went upstairs, a little wearied by his lazy day, with the two young men whom Quenu employed as assistants, and who slept in attics adjoining his own. Leon, the apprentice, was barely fifteen years of age. He was a slight, gentle looking lad, addicted to stealing stray slices of ham and bits of sausages. These he would conceal under his pillow, eating them during the night without any bread. Several times at about one o'clock in the morning Florent almost fancied that Leon was giving a supper-party; for he heard low whispering followed by a sound of munching jaws and rustling paper. And then a rippling girlish laugh would break faintly on the deep silence of the sleeping house like the soft trilling of a flageolet.
The other assistant, Auguste Landois, came from Troyes. Bloated with unhealthy fat, he had too large a head, and was already bald, although only twenty-eight years of age. As he went upstairs with Florent on the first evening, he told him his story in a confused, garrulous way. He had at first come to Paris merely for the purpose of perfecting himself in the business, intending to return to Troyes, where his cousin, Augustine Landois, was waiting for him, and there setting up for himself as a pork butcher. He and she had had the game godfather and bore virtually the same Christian name. However, he had grown ambitious; and now hoped to establish himself in business in Paris by the aid of the money left him by his mother, which he had deposited with a notary before leaving Champagne.
Auguste had got so far in his narrative when the fifth floor was reached; however, he still detained Florent, in order to sound the praises of Madame Quenu, who had consented to send for Augustine Landois to replace an assistant who had turned out badly. He himself was now thoroughly acquainted with his part of the business, and his cousin was perfecting herself in shop management. In a year or eighteen months they would be married, and then they would set up on their own account in some populous corner of Paris, at Plaisance most likely. They were in no great hurry, he added, for the bacon trade was very bad that year. Then he proceeded to tell Florent that he and his cousin had been photographed together at the fair of St. Ouen, and he entered the attic to have another look at the photograph, which Augustine had left on the mantelpiece, in her desire that Madame Quenu's cousin should have a pretty room. Auguste lingered there for a moment, looking quite livid in the dim yellow light of his candle, and casting his eyes around the little chamber which was still full of memorials of the young girl. Next, stepping up to the bed, he asked Florent if it was comfortable. His cousin slept below now, said he, and would be better there in the winter, for the attics were very cold. Then at last he went off, leaving Florent alone with the bed, and standing in front of the photograph. As shown on the latter Auguste looked like a sort of pale Quenu, and Augustine like an immature Lisa.
Florent, although on friendly terms with the assistants, petted by his brother, and cordially treated by Lisa, presently began to feel very bored. He had tried, but without success, to obtain some pupils; moreover, he purposely avoided the students' quarter for fear of being recognised. Lisa gently suggested to him that he had better try to obtain a situation in some commercial house, where he could take charge of the correspondence and keep the books. She returned to this subject again and again, and at last offered to find a berth for him herself. She was gradually becoming impatient at finding him so often in her way, idle, and not knowing what to do with himself. At first this impatience was merely due to the dislike she felt of people who do nothing but cross their arms and eat, and she had no thought of reproaching him for consuming her substance.
"For my own part," she would say to him, "I could never spend the whole day in dreamy lounging. You can't have any appetite for your meals. You ought to tire yourself."
Gavard, also, was seeking a situation for Florent, but in a very extraordinary and most mysterious fashion. He would have liked to find some employment of a dramatic character, or in which there should be a touch of bitter irony, as was suitable for an outlaw. Gavard was a man who was always in opposition. He had just completed his fiftieth year, and he boasted that he had already passed judgment on four Governments. He still contemptuously shrugged his shoulders at the thought of Charles X, the priests and nobles and other attendant rabble, whom he had helped to sweep away. Louis Philippe, with his bourgeois following, had been an imbecile, and he could tell how the citizen-king had hoarded his coppers in a woollen stocking. As for the Republic of '48, that had been a mere farce, the working classes had deceived him; however, he no longer acknowledged that he had applauded the Coup d'Etat, for he now looked upon Napoleon III as his personal enemy, a scoundrel who shut himself up with Morny and others to indulge in gluttonous orgies. He was never weary of holding forth upon this subject. Lowering his voice a little, he would declare that women were brought to the Tuileries in closed carriages every evening, and that he, who was speaking, had one night heard the echoes of the orgies while crossing the Place du Carrousel. It was Gavard's religion to make himself as disagreeable as possible to any existing Government. He would seek to spite it in all sorts of ways, and laugh in secret for several months at the pranks he played. To begin with, he voted for candidates who would worry the Ministers at the Corps Legislatif. Then, if he could rob the revenue, or baffle the police, and bring about a row of some kind or other, he strove to give the affair as much of an insurrectionary character as possible. He told a great many lies, too; set himself up as being a very dangerous man; talked as though "the satellites of the Tuileries" were well acquainted with him and trembled at the sight of him; and asserted that one half of them must be guillotined, and the other half transported, the next time there was "a flare-up." His violent political creed found food in boastful, bragging talk of this sort; he displayed all the partiality for a lark and a rumpus which prompts a Parisian shopkeeper to take down his shutters on a day of barricade-fighting to get a good view of the corpses of the slain. When Florent returned from Cayenne, Gavard opined that he had got hold of a splendid chance for some abominable trick, and bestowed much thought upon the question of how he might best vent his spleen on the Emperor and Ministers and everyone in office, down to the very lowest police constable.