THE FAT AND THE THIN
(LE VENTRE DE PARIS)
By Emile Zola
Translated, With An Introduction, By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly
Let me have men about me that are fat: Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights: Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. SHAKESPEARE: Julius Caesar, act i, sc. 2.
"THE FAT AND THE THIN," or, to use the French title, "Le Ventre de Paris," is a story of life in and around those vast Central Markets which form a distinctive feature of modern Paris. Even the reader who has never crossed the Channel must have heard of the Parisian Halles, for much has been written about them, not only in English books on the French metropolis, but also in English newspapers, magazines, and reviews; so that few, I fancy, will commence the perusal of the present volume without having, at all events, some knowledge of its subject matter.
The Paris markets form such a world of their own, and teem at certain hours of the day and night with such exuberance of life, that it was only natural they should attract the attention of a novelist like M. Zola, who, to use his own words, delights "in any subject in which vast masses of people can be shown in motion." Mr. Sherard tells us[*] that the idea of "Le Ventre de Paris" first occurred to M. Zola in 1872, when he used continually to take his friend Paul Alexis for a ramble through the Halles. I have in my possession, however, an article written by M. Zola some five or six years before that time, and in this one can already detect the germ of the present work; just as the motif of another of M. Zola's novels, "La Joie de Vivre," can be traced to a short story written for a Russian review.
[*] Emile Zola: a Biographical and Critical Study, by Robert Harborough Sherard, pp. 103, 104. London, Chatto & Windus, 1893.
Similar instances are frequently to be found in the writings of English as well as French novelists, and are, of course, easily explained. A young man unknown to fame, and unable to procure the publication of a long novel, often contents himself with embodying some particular idea in a short sketch or story, which finds its way into one or another periodical, where it lies buried and forgotten by everybody—excepting its author. Time goes by, however, the writer achieves some measure of success, and one day it occurs to him to elaborate and perfect that old idea of his, only a faint apercu of which, for lack of opportunity, he had been able to give in the past. With a little research, no doubt, an interesting essay might be written on these literary resuscitations; but if one except certain novelists who are so deficient in ideas that they continue writing and rewriting the same story throughout their lives, it will, I think, be generally found that the revivals in question are due to some such reason as that given above.
It should be mentioned that the article of M. Zola's young days to which I have referred is not one on market life in particular, but one on violets. It contains, however, a vigorous, if brief, picture of the Halles in the small hours of the morning, and is instinct with that realistic descriptive power of which M. Zola has since given so many proofs. We hear the rumbling and clattering of the market carts, we see the piles of red meat, the baskets of silvery fish, the mountains of vegetables, green and white; in a few paragraphs the whole market world passes in kaleidoscopic fashion before our eyes by the pale, dancing light of the gas lamps and the lanterns. Several years after the paper I speak of was published, when M. Zola began to issue "Le Ventre de Paris," M. Tournachon, better known as Nadar, the aeronaut and photographer, rushed into print to proclaim that the realistic novelist had simply pilfered his ideas from an account of the Halles which he (Tournachon) had but lately written. M. Zola, as is so often his wont, scorned to reply to this charge of plagiarism; but, had he chosen, he could have promptly settled the matter by producing his own forgotten article.
At the risk of passing for a literary ghoul, I propose to exhume some portion of the paper in question, as, so far as translation can avail, it will show how M. Zola wrote and what he thought in 1867. After the description of the markets to which I have alluded, there comes the following passage:—
I was gazing at the preparations for the great daily orgy of Paris when I espied a throng of people bustling suspiciously in a corner. A few lanterns threw a yellow light upon this crowd. Children, women, and men with outstretched hands were fumbling in dark piles which extended along the footway. I thought that those piles must be remnants of meat sold for a trifling price, and that all those wretched people were rushing upon them to feed. I drew near, and discovered my mistake. The heaps were not heaps of meat, but heaps of violets. All the flowery poesy of the streets of Paris lay there, on that muddy pavement, amidst mountains of food. The gardeners of the suburbs had brought their sweet-scented harvests to the markets and were disposing of them to the hawkers. From the rough fingers of their peasant growers the violets were passing to the dirty hands of those who would cry them in the streets. At winter time it is between four and six o'clock in the morning that the flowers of Paris are thus sold at the Halles. Whilst the city sleeps and its butchers are getting all ready for its daily attack of indigestion, a trade in poetry is plied in dark, dank corners. When the sun rises the bright red meat will be displayed in trim, carefully dressed joints, and the violets, mounted on bits of osier, will gleam softly within their elegant collars of green leaves. But when they arrive, in the dark night, the bullocks, already ripped open, discharge black blood, and the trodden flowers lie prone upon the footways. . . . I noticed just in front of me one large bunch which had slipped off a neighbouring mound and was almost bathing in the gutter. I picked it up. Underneath, it was soiled with mud; the greasy, fetid sewer water had left black stains upon the flowers. And then, gazing at these exquisite daughters of our gardens and our woods, astray amidst all the filth of the city, I began to ponder. On what woman's bosom would those wretched flowerets open and bloom? Some hawker would dip them in a pail of water, and of all the bitter odours of the Paris mud they would retain but a slight pungency, which would remain mingled with their own sweet perfume. The water would remove their stains, they would pale somewhat, and become a joy both for the smell and for the sight. Nevertheless, in the depths of each corolla there would still remain some particle of mud suggestive of impurity. And I asked myself how much love and passion was represented by all those heaps of flowers shivering in the bleak wind. To how many loving ones, and how many indifferent ones, and how many egotistical ones, would all those thousands and thousands of violets go! In a few hours' time they would be scattered to the four corners of Paris, and for a paltry copper the passers-by would purchase a glimpse and a whiff of springtide in the muddy streets.
Imperfect as the rendering may be, I think that the above passage will show that M. Zola was already possessed of a large amount of his acknowledged realistic power at the early date I have mentioned. I should also have liked to quote a rather amusing story of a priggish Philistine who ate violets with oil and vinegar, strongly peppered, but considerations of space forbid; so I will pass to another passage, which is of more interest and importance. Both French and English critics have often contended that although M. Zola is a married man, he knows very little of women, as there has virtually never been any feminine romance in his life. There are those who are aware of the contrary, but whose tongues are stayed by considerations of delicacy and respect. Still, as the passage I am now about to reproduce is signed and acknowledged as fact by M. Zola himself, I see no harm in slightly raising the veil from a long-past episode in the master's life:—
The light was rising, and as I stood there before that footway transformed into a bed of flowers my strange night-fancies gave place to recollections at once sweet and sad. I thought of my last excursion to Fontenay-aux-Roses, with the loved one, the good fairy of my twentieth year. Springtime was budding into birth, the tender foliage gleamed in the pale April sunshine. The little pathway skirting the hill was bordered by large fields of violets. As one passed along, a strong perfume seemed to penetrate one and make one languid. She was leaning on my arm, faint with love from the sweet odour of the flowers. A whiteness hovered over the country-side, little insects buzzed in the sunshine, deep silence fell from the heavens, and so low was the sound of our kisses that not a bird in all the hedges showed sign of fear. At a turn of the path we perceived some old bent women, who with dry, withered hands were hurriedly gathering violets and throwing them into large baskets. She who was with me glanced longingly at the flowers, and I called one of the women. "You want some violets?" said she. "How much? A pound?"
God of Heaven! She sold her flowers by the pound! We fled in deep distress. It seemed as though the country-side had been transformed into a huge grocer's shop. . . . Then we ascended to the woods of Verrieres, and there, in the grass, under the soft, fresh foliage, we found some tiny violets which seemed to be dreadfully afraid, and contrived to hide themselves with all sorts of artful ruses. During two long hours I scoured the grass and peered into every nook, and as soon as ever I found a fresh violet I carried it to her. She bought it of me, and the price that I exacted was a kiss. . . . And I thought of all those things, of all that happiness, amidst the hubbub of the markets of Paris, before those poor dead flowers whose graveyard the footway had become. I remembered my good fairy, who is now dead and gone, and the little bouquet of dry violets which I still preserve in a drawer. When I returned home I counted their withered stems: there were twenty of them, and over my lips there passed the gentle warmth of my loved one's twenty kisses.
And now from violets I must, with a brutality akin to that which M. Zola himself displays in some of his transitions, pass to very different things, for some time back a well-known English poet and essayist wrote of the present work that it was redolent of pork, onions, and cheese. To one of his sensitive temperament, with a muse strictly nourished on sugar and water, such gross edibles as pork and cheese and onions were peculiarly offensive. That humble plant the onion, employed to flavour wellnigh every savoury dish, can assuredly need no defence; in most European countries, too, cheese has long been known as the poor man's friend; whilst as for pork, apart from all other considerations, I can claim for it a distinct place in English literature. A greater essayist by far than the critic to whom I am referring, a certain Mr. Charles Lamb, of the India House, has left us an immortal page on the origin of roast pig and crackling. And, when everything is considered, I should much like to know why novels should be confined to the aspirations of the soul, and why they should not also treat of the requirements of our physical nature? From the days of antiquity we have all known what befell the members when, guided by the brain, they were foolish enough to revolt against the stomach. The latter plays a considerable part not only in each individual organism, but also in the life of the world. Over and over again—I could adduce a score of historical examples—it has thwarted the mightiest designs of the human mind. We mortals are much addicted to talking of our minds and our souls and treating our bodies as mere dross. But I hold—it is a personal opinion—that in the vast majority of cases the former are largely governed by the last. I conceive, therefore, that a novel which takes our daily sustenance as one of its themes has the best of all raisons d'etre. A foreign writer of far more consequence and ability than myself—Signor Edmondo de Amicis—has proclaimed the present book to be "one of the most original and happiest inventions of French genius," and I am strongly inclined to share his opinion.
It should be observed that the work does not merely treat of the provisioning of a great city. That provisioning is its scenario; but it also embraces a powerful allegory, the prose song of "the eternal battle between the lean of this world and the fat—a battle in which, as the author shows, the latter always come off successful. It is, too, in its way an allegory of the triumph of the fat bourgeois, who lives well and beds softly, over the gaunt and Ishmael artist—an allegory which M. Zola has more than once introduced into his pages, another notable instance thereof being found in 'Germinal,' with the fat, well-fed Gregoires on the one hand, and the starving Maheus on the other."
From this quotation from Mr. Sherard's pages it will be gathered that M. Zola had a distinct social aim in writing this book. Wellnigh the whole social question may, indeed, be summed up in the words "food and comfort"; and in a series of novels like "Les Rougon-Macquart," dealing firstly with different conditions and grades of society, and, secondly, with the influence which the Second Empire exercised on France, the present volume necessarily had its place marked out from the very first.
Mr. Sherard has told us of all the labour which M. Zola expended on the preparation of the work, of his multitudinous visits to the Paris markets, his patient investigation of their organism, and his keen artistic interest in their manifold phases of life. And bred as I was in Paris, a partaker as I have been of her exultations and her woes they have always had for me a strong attraction. My memory goes back to the earlier years of their existence, and I can well remember many of the old surroundings which have now disappeared. I can recollect the last vestiges of the antique piliers, built by Francis I, facing the Rue de la Tonnellerie. Paul Niquet's, with its "bowel-twisting brandy" and its crew of drunken ragpickers, was certainly before my time; but I can readily recall Baratte's and Bordier's and all the folly and prodigality which raged there; I knew, too, several of the noted thieves' haunts which took the place of Niquet's, and which one was careful never to enter without due precaution. And then, when the German armies were beleaguering Paris, and two millions of people were shut off from the world, I often strolled to the Halles to view their strangely altered aspect. The fish pavilion, of which M. Zola has so much to say, was bare and deserted. The railway drays, laden with the comestible treasures of the ocean, no longer thundered through the covered ways. At the most one found an auction going on in one or another corner, and a few Seine eels or gudgeons fetching wellnigh their weight in gold. Then, in the butter and cheese pavilions, one could only procure some nauseous melted fat, while in the meat department horse and mule and donkey took the place of beef and veal and mutton. Mule and donkey were very scarce, and commanded high prices, but both were of better flavour than horse; mule, indeed, being quite a delicacy. I also well remember a stall at which dog was sold, and, hunger knowing no law, I once purchased, cooked, and ate a couple of canine cutlets which cost me two francs apiece. The flesh was pinky and very tender, yet I would not willingly make such a repast again. However, peace and plenty at last came round once more, the Halles regained their old-time aspect, and in the years which followed I more than once saw the dawn rise slowly over the mounds of cabbages, carrots, leeks, and pumpkins, even as M. Zola describes in the following pages. He has, I think, depicted with remarkable accuracy and artistic skill the many varying effects of colour that are produced as the climbing sun casts its early beams on the giant larder and its masses of food—effects of colour which, to quote a famous saying of the first Napoleon, show that "the markets of Paris are the Louvre of the people" in more senses than one.
The reader will bear in mind that the period dealt with by the author in this work is that of 1857-60, when the new Halles Centrales were yet young, and indeed not altogether complete. Still, although many old landmarks have long since been swept away, the picture of life in all essential particulars remained the same. Prior to 1860 the limits of Paris were the so-called boulevards exterieurs, from which a girdle of suburbs, such as Montmartre, Belleville, Passy, and Montrouge, extended to the fortifications; and the population of the city was then only 1,400,000 souls. Some of the figures which will be found scattered through M. Zola's work must therefore be taken as applying entirely to the past.
Nowadays the amount of business transacted at the Halles has very largely increased, in spite of the multiplication of district markets. Paris seems to have an insatiable appetite, though, on the other hand, its cuisine is fast becoming all simplicity. To my thinking, few more remarkable changes have come over the Parisians of recent years than this change of diet. One by one great restaurants, formerly renowned for particular dishes and special wines, have been compelled through lack of custom to close their doors; and this has not been caused so much by inability to defray the cost of high feeding as by inability to indulge in it with impunity in a physical sense. In fact, Paris has become a city of impaired digestions, which nowadays seek the simplicity without the heaviness of the old English cuisine; and, should things continue in their present course, I fancy that Parisians anxious for high feeding will ultimately have to cross over to our side of the Channel.
These remarks, I trust, will not be considered out of place in an introduction to a work which to no small extent treats of the appetite of Paris. The reader will find that the characters portrayed by M. Zola are all types of humble life, but I fail to see that their circumstances should render them any the less interesting. A faithful portrait of a shopkeeper, a workman, or a workgirl is artistically of far more value than all the imaginary sketches of impossible dukes and good and wicked baronets in which so many English novels abound. Several of M. Zola's personages seem to me extremely lifelike—Gavard, indeed, is a chef-d'oeuvre of portraiture: I have known many men like him; and no one who lived in Paris under the Empire can deny the accuracy with which the author has delineated his hero Florent, the dreamy and hapless revolutionary caught in the toils of others. In those days, too, there was many such a plot as M. Zola describes, instigated by agents like Logre and Lebigre, and allowed to mature till the eve of an election or some other important event which rendered its exposure desirable for the purpose of influencing public opinion. In fact, in all that relates to the so-called "conspiracy of the markets," M. Zola, whilst changing time and place to suit the requirements of his story, has simply followed historical lines. As for the Quenus, who play such prominent parts in the narrative, the husband is a weakling with no soul above his stewpans, whilst his wife, the beautiful Lisa, in reality wears the breeches and rules the roast. The manner in which she cures Quenu of his political proclivities, though savouring of persuasiveness rather than violence, is worthy of the immortal Mrs. Caudle: Douglas Jerrold might have signed a certain lecture which she administers to her astounded helpmate. Of Pauline, the Quenus' daughter, we see but little in the story, but she becomes the heroine of another of M. Zola's novels, "La Joie de Vivre," and instead of inheriting the egotism of her parents, develops a passionate love and devotion for others. In a like way Claude Lantier, Florent's artist friend and son of Gervaise of the "Assommoir," figures more particularly in "L'Oeuvre," which tells how his painful struggle for fame resulted in madness and suicide. With reference to the beautiful Norman and the other fishwives and gossips scattered through the present volume, and those genuine types of Parisian gaminerie, Muche, Marjolin, and Cadine, I may mention that I have frequently chastened their language in deference to English susceptibilities, so that the story, whilst retaining every essential feature, contains nothing to which exception can reasonably be taken.
E. A. V.
THE FAT AND THE THIN
Amidst the deep silence and solitude prevailing in the avenue several market gardeners' carts were climbing the slope which led towards Paris, and the fronts of the houses, asleep behind the dim lines of elms on either side of the road, echoed back the rhythmical jolting of the wheels. At the Neuilly bridge a cart full of cabbages and another full of peas had joined the eight waggons of carrots and turnips coming down from Nanterre; and the horses, left to themselves, had continued plodding along with lowered heads, at a regular though lazy pace, which the ascent of the slope now slackened. The sleeping waggoners, wrapped in woollen cloaks, striped black and grey, and grasping the reins slackly in their closed hands, were stretched at full length on their stomachs atop of the piles of vegetables. Every now and then, a gas lamp, following some patch of gloom, would light up the hobnails of a boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse, or the peak of a cap peering out of the huge florescence of vegetables—red bouquets of carrots, white bouquets of turnips, and the overflowing greenery of peas and cabbages.
And all along the road, and along the neighbouring roads, in front and behind, the distant rumbling of vehicles told of the presence of similar contingents of the great caravan which was travelling onward through the gloom and deep slumber of that matutinal hour, lulling the dark city to continued repose with its echoes of passing food.
Madame Francois's horse, Balthazar, an animal that was far too fat, led the van. He was plodding on, half asleep and wagging his ears, when suddenly, on reaching the Rue de Longchamp, he quivered with fear and came to a dead stop. The horses behind, thus unexpectedly checked, ran their heads against the backs of the carts in front of them, and the procession halted amidst a clattering of bolts and chains and the oaths of the awakened waggoners. Madame Francois, who sat in front of her vehicle, with her back to a board which kept her vegetables in position, looked down; but, in the dim light thrown to the left by a small square lantern, which illuminated little beyond one of Balthazar's sheeny flanks, she could distinguish nothing.
"Come, old woman, let's get on!" cried one of the men, who had raised himself to a kneeling position amongst his turnips; "it's only some drunken sot."
Madame Francois, however, had bent forward and on her right hand had caught sight of a black mass, lying almost under the horse's hoofs, and blocking the road.
"You wouldn't have us drive over a man, would you?" said she, jumping to the ground.
It was indeed a man lying at full length upon the road, with his arms stretched out and his face in the dust. He seemed to be remarkably tall, but as withered as a dry branch, and the wonder was that Balthazar had not broken him in half with a blow from his hoof. Madame Francois thought that he was dead; but on stooping and taking hold of one of his hands, she found that it was quite warm.
"Poor fellow!" she murmured softly.
The waggoners, however, were getting impatient.
"Hurry up, there!" said the man kneeling amongst the turnips, in a hoarse voice. "He's drunk till he can hold no more, the hog! Shove him into the gutter."
Meantime, the man on the road had opened his eyes. He looked at Madame Francois with a startled air, but did not move. She herself now thought that he must indeed be drunk.
"You mustn't stop here," she said to him, "or you'll get run over and killed. Where were you going?"
"I don't know," replied the man in a faint voice.
Then, with an effort and an anxious expression, he added: "I was going to Paris; I fell down, and don't remember any more."
Madame Francois could now see him more distinctly, and he was truly a pitiable object, with his ragged black coat and trousers, through the rents in which you could espy his scraggy limbs. Underneath a black cloth cap, which was drawn low over his brows, as though he were afraid of being recognised, could be seen two large brown eyes, gleaming with peculiar softness in his otherwise stern and harassed countenance. It seemed to Madame Francois that he was in far too famished a condition to have got drunk.
"And what part of Paris were you going to?" she continued.
The man did not reply immediately. This questioning seemed to distress him. He appeared to be thinking the matter over, but at last said hesitatingly, "Over yonder, towards the markets."
He had now, with great difficulty, got to his feet again, and seemed anxious to resume his journey. But Madame Francois noticed that he tottered, and clung for support to one of the shafts of her waggon.
"Are you tired?" she asked him.
"Yes, very tired," he replied.
Then she suddenly assumed a grumpy tone, as though displeased, and, giving him a push, exclaimed: "Look sharp, then, and climb into my cart. You've made us lose a lot of time. I'm going to the markets, and I'll turn you out there with my vegetables."
Then, as the man seemed inclined to refuse her offer, she pushed him up with her stout arms, and bundled him down upon the turnips and carrots.
"Come, now, don't give us any more trouble," she cried angrily. "You are quite enough to provoke one, my good fellow. Don't I tell you that I'm going to the markets? Sleep away up there. I'll wake you when we arrive."
She herself then clambered into the cart again, and settled herself with her back against the board, grasping the reins of Balthazar, who started off drowsily, swaying his ears once more. The other waggons followed, and the procession resumed its lazy march through the darkness, whilst the rhythmical jolting of the wheels again awoke the echoes of the sleepy house fronts, and the waggoners, wrapped in their cloaks, dozed off afresh. The one who had called to Madame Francois growled out as he lay down: "As if we'd nothing better to do than pick up every drunken sot we come across! You're a scorcher, old woman!"
The waggons rumbled on, and the horses picked their own way, with drooping heads. The stranger whom Madame Francois had befriended was lying on his stomach, with his long legs lost amongst the turnips which filled the back part of the cart, whilst his face was buried amidst the spreading piles of carrot bunches. With weary, extended arms he clutched hold of his vegetable couch in fear of being thrown to the ground by one of the waggon's jolts, and his eyes were fixed on the two long lines of gas lamps which stretched away in front of him till they mingled with a swarm of other lights in the distance atop of the slope. Far away on the horizon floated a spreading, whitish vapour, showing where Paris slept amidst the luminous haze of all those flamelets.
"I come from Nanterre, and my name's Madame Francois," said the market gardener presently. "Since my poor man died I go to the markets every morning myself. It's a hard life, as you may guess. And who are you?"
"My name's Florent, I come from a distance," replied the stranger, with embarrassment. "Please excuse me, but I'm really so tired that it is painful to me to talk."
He was evidently unwilling to say anything more, and so Madame Francois relapsed into silence, and allowed the reins to fall loosely on the back of Balthazar, who went his way like an animal acquainted with every stone of the road.
Meantime, with his eyes still fixed upon the far-spreading glare of Paris, Florent was pondering over the story which he had refused to communicate to Madame Francois. After making his escape from Cayenne, whither he had been transported for his participation in the resistance to Louis Napoleon's Coup d'Etat, he had wandered about Dutch Guiana for a couple of years, burning to return to France, yet dreading the Imperial police. At last, however, he once more saw before him the beloved and mighty city which he had so keenly regretted and so ardently longed for. He would hide himself there, he told himself, and again lead the quiet, peaceable life that he had lived years ago. The police would never be any the wiser; and everyone would imagine, indeed, that he had died over yonder, across the sea. Then he thought of his arrival at Havre, where he had landed with only some fifteen francs tied up in a corner of his handkerchief. He had been able to pay for a seat in the coach as far as Rouen, but from that point he had been forced to continue his journey on foot, as he had scarcely thirty sous left of his little store. At Vernon his last copper had gone in bread. After that he had no clear recollection of anything. He fancied that he could remember having slept for several hours in a ditch, and having shown the papers with which he had provided himself to a gendarme; however, he had only a very confused idea of what had happened. He had left Vernon without any breakfast, seized every now and then with hopeless despair and raging pangs which had driven him to munch the leaves of the hedges as he tramped along. A prey to cramp and fright, his body bent, his sight dimmed, and his feet sore, he had continued his weary march, ever drawn onwards in a semi-unconscious state by a vision of Paris, which, far, far away, beyond the horizon, seemed to be summoning him and waiting for him.
When he at length reached Courbevoie, the night was very dark. Paris, looking like a patch of star-sprent sky that had fallen upon the black earth, seemed to him to wear a forbidding aspect, as though angry at his return. Then he felt very faint, and his legs almost gave way beneath him as he descended the hill. As he crossed the Neuilly bridge he sustained himself by clinging to the parapet, and bent over and looked at the Seine rolling inky waves between its dense, massy banks. A red lamp on the water seemed to be watching him with a sanguineous eye. And then he had to climb the hill if he would reach Paris on its summit yonder. The hundreds of leagues which he had already travelled were as nothing to it. That bit of a road filled him with despair. He would never be able, he thought, to reach yonder light crowned summit. The spacious avenue lay before him with its silence and its darkness, its lines of tall trees and low houses, its broad grey footwalks, speckled with the shadows of overhanging branches, and parted occasionally by the gloomy gaps of side streets. The squat yellow flames of the gas lamps, standing erect at regular intervals, alone imparted a little life to the lonely wilderness. And Florent seemed to make no progress; the avenue appeared to grow ever longer and longer, to be carrying Paris away into the far depths of the night. At last he fancied that the gas lamps, with their single eyes, were running off on either hand, whisking the road away with them; and then, overcome by vertigo, he stumbled and fell on the roadway like a log.
Now he was lying at ease on his couch of greenery, which seemed to him soft as a feather bed. He had slightly raised his head so as to keep his eyes on the luminous haze which was spreading above the dark roofs which he could divine on the horizon. He was nearing his goal, carried along towards it, with nothing to do but to yield to the leisurely jolts of the waggon; and, free from all further fatigue, he now only suffered from hunger. Hunger, indeed, had once more awoke within him with frightful and wellnigh intolerable pangs. His limbs seemed to have fallen asleep; he was only conscious of the existence of his stomach, horribly cramped and twisted as by a red-hot iron. The fresh odour of the vegetables, amongst which he was lying, affected him so keenly that he almost fainted away. He strained himself against that piled-up mass of food with all his remaining strength, in order to compress his stomach and silence its groans. And the nine other waggons behind him, with their mountains of cabbages and peas, their piles of artichokes, lettuces, celery, and leeks, seemed to him to be slowly overtaking him, as though to bury him whilst he was thus tortured by hunger beneath an avalanche of food. Presently the procession halted, and there was a sound of deep voices. They had reached the barriers, and the municipal customs officers were examining the waggons. A moment later Florent entered Paris, in a swoon, lying atop of the carrots, with clenched teeth.
"Hallow! You up there!" Madame Francois called out sharply.
And as the stranger made no attempt to move, she clambered up and shook him. Florent rose to a sitting posture. He had slept and no longer felt the pangs of hunger, but was dizzy and confused.
"You'll help me to unload, won't you?" Madame Francois said to him, as she made him get down.
He helped her. A stout man with a felt hat on his head and a badge in the top buttonhole of his coat was striking the ground with a stick and grumbling loudly:
"Come, come, now, make haste! You must get on faster than that! Bring the waggon a little more forward. How many yards' standing have you? Four, isn't it?"
Then he gave a ticket to Madame Francois, who took some coppers out of a little canvas bag and handed them to him; whereupon he went off to vent his impatience and tap the ground with his stick a little further away. Madame Francois took hold of Balthazar's bridle and backed him so as to bring the wheels of the waggon close to the footway. Then, having marked out her four yards with some wisps of straw, after removing the back of the cart, she asked Florent to hand her the vegetables bunch by bunch. She arranged them sort by sort on her standing, setting them out artistically, the "tops" forming a band of greenery around each pile; and it was with remarkable rapidity that she completed her show, which, in the gloom of early morning, looked like some piece of symmetrically coloured tapestry. When Florent had handed her a huge bunch of parsley, which he had found at the bottom of the cart, she asked him for still another service.
"It would be very kind of you," said she, "if you would look after my goods while I put the horse and cart up. I'm only going a couple of yards, to the Golden Compasses, in the Rue Montorgueil."
Florent told her that she might make herself easy. He preferred to remain still, for his hunger had revived since he had begun to move about. He sat down and leaned against a heap of cabbages beside Madame Francois's stock. He was all right there, he told himself, and would not go further afield, but wait. His head felt empty, and he had no very clear notion as to where he was. At the beginning of September it is quite dark in the early morning. Around him lighted lanterns were flitting or standing stationary in the depths of the gloom. He was sitting on one side of a broad street which he did not recognise; it stretched far away into the blackness of the night. He could make out nothing plainly, excepting the stock of which he had been left in charge. All around him along the market footways rose similar piles of goods. The middle of the roadway was blocked by huge grey tumbrels, and from one end of the street to the other a sound of heavy breathing passed, betokening the presence of horses which the eye could not distinguish.
Shouts and calls, the noise of falling wood, or of iron chains slipping to the ground, the heavy thud of loads of vegetables discharged from the waggons, and the grating of wheels as the carts were backed against the footways, filled the yet sonorous awakening, whose near approach could be felt and heard in the throbbing gloom. Glancing over the pile of cabbages behind him. Florent caught sight of a man wrapped like a parcel in his cloak, and snoring away with his head upon some baskets of plums. Nearer to him, on his left, he could distinguish a lad, some ten years old, slumbering between two heaps of endive, with an angelic smile on his face. And as yet there seemed to be nothing on that pavement that was really awake except the lanterns waving from invisible arms, and flitting and skipping over the sleep of the vegetables and human beings spread out there in heaps pending the dawn. However, what surprised Florent was the sight of some huge pavilions on either side of the street, pavilions with lofty roofs that seemed to expand and soar out of sight amidst a swarm of gleams. In his weakened state of mind he fancied he beheld a series of enormous, symmetrically built palaces, light and airy as crystal, whose fronts sparkled with countless streaks of light filtering through endless Venetian shutters. Gleaming between the slender pillar shafts these narrow golden bars seemed like ladders of light mounting to the gloomy line of the lower roofs, and then soaring aloft till they reached the jumble of higher ones, thus describing the open framework of immense square halls, where in the yellow flare of the gas lights a multitude of vague, grey, slumbering things was gathered together.
At last Florent turned his head to look about him, distressed at not knowing where he was, and filled with vague uneasiness by the sight of that huge and seemingly fragile vision. And now, as he raised his eyes, he caught sight of the luminous dial and the grey massive pile of Saint Eustache's Church. At this he was much astonished. He was close to Saint Eustache, yet all was novel to him.
However, Madame Francois had come back again, and was engaged in a heated discussion with a man who carried a sack over his shoulder and offered to buy her carrots for a sou a bunch.
"Really, now, you are unreasonable, Lacaille!" said she. "You know quite well that you will sell them again to the Parisians at four and five sous the bunch. Don't tell me that you won't! You may have them for two sous the bunch, if you like."
Then, as the man went off, she continued: "Upon my word, I believe some people think that things grow of their own accord! Let him go and find carrots at a sou the bunch elsewhere, tipsy scoundrel that he is! He'll come back again presently, you'll see."
These last remarks were addressed to Florent. And, seating herself by his side, Madame Francois resumed: "If you've been a long time away from Paris, you perhaps don't know the new markets. They haven't been built for more than five years at the most. That pavilion you see there beside us is the flower and fruit market. The fish and poultry markets are farther away, and over there behind us come the vegetables and the butter and cheese. There are six pavilions on this side, and on the other side, across the road, there are four more, with the meat and the tripe stalls. It's an enormous place, but it's horribly cold in the winter. They talk about pulling down the houses near the corn market to make room for two more pavilions. But perhaps you know all this?"
"No, indeed," replied Florent; "I've been abroad. And what's the name of that big street in front of us?"
"Oh, that's a new street. It's called the Rue du Pont Neuf. It leads from the Seine through here to the Rue Montmartre and the Rue Montorgueil. You would soon have recognized where you were if it had been daylight."
Madame Francois paused and rose, for she saw a woman heading down to examine her turnips. "Ah, is that you, Mother Chantemesse?" she said in a friendly way.
Florent meanwhile glanced towards the Rue Montorgueil. It was there that a body of police officers had arrested him on the night of December 4.[*] He had been walking along the Boulevard Montmartre at about two o'clock, quietly making his way through the crowd, and smiling at the number of soldiers that the Elysee had sent into the streets to awe the people, when the military suddenly began making a clean sweep of the thoroughfare, shooting folks down at close range during a quarter of an hour. Jostled and knocked to the ground, Florent fell at the corner of the Rue Vivienne and knew nothing further of what happened, for the panic-stricken crowd, in their wild terror of being shot, trampled over his body. Presently, hearing everything quiet, he made an attempt to rise; but across him there lay a young woman in a pink bonnet, whose shawl had slipped aside, allowing her chemisette, pleated in little tucks, to be seen. Two bullets had pierced the upper part of her bosom; and when Florent gently removed the poor creature to free his legs, two streamlets of blood oozed from her wounds on to his hands. Then he sprang up with a sudden bound, and rushed madly away, hatless and with his hands still wet with blood. Until evening he wandered about the streets, with his head swimming, ever seeing the young woman lying across his legs with her pale face, her blue staring eyes, her distorted lips, and her expression of astonishment at thus meeting death so suddenly. He was a shy, timid fellow. Albeit thirty years old he had never dared to stare women in the face; and now, for the rest of his life, he was to have that one fixed in his heart and memory. He felt as though he had lost some loved one of his own.
[*] 1851. Two days after the Coup d'Etat.—Translator.
In the evening, without knowing how he had got there, still dazed and horrified as he was by the terrible scenes of the afternoon, he had found himself at a wine shop in the Rue Montorgueil, where several men were drinking and talking of throwing up barricades. He went away with them, helped them to tear up a few paving-stones, and seated himself on the barricade, weary with his long wandering through the streets, and reflecting that he would fight when the soldiers came up. However, he had not even a knife with him, and was still bareheaded. Towards eleven o'clock he dozed off, and in his sleep could see the two holes in the dead woman's white chemisette glaring at him like eyes reddened by tears and blood. When he awoke he found himself in the grasp of four police officers, who were pummelling him with their fists. The men who had built the barricade had fled. The police officers treated him with still greater violence, and indeed almost strangled him when they noticed that his hands were stained with blood. It was the blood of the young woman.
Florent raised his eyes to the luminous dial of Saint Eustache with his mind so full of these recollections that he did not notice the position of the pointers. It was, however, nearly four o'clock. The markets were as yet wrapped in sleep. Madame Francois was still talking to old Madame Chantemesse, both standing and arguing about the price of turnips, and Florent now called to mind how narrowly he had escaped being shot over yonder by the wall of Saint Eustache. A detachment of gendarmes had just blown out the brains of five unhappy fellows caught at a barricade in the Rue Greneta. The five corpses were lying on the footway, at a spot where he thought he could now distinguish a heap of rosy radishes. He himself had escaped being shot merely because the policemen only carried swords. They took him to a neighbouring police station and gave the officer in charge a scrap of paper, on which were these words written in pencil: "Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous." Then he had been dragged from station to station till the morning came. The scrap of paper accompanied him wherever he went. He was manacled and guarded as though he were a raving madman. At the station in the Rue de la Lingerie some tipsy soldiers wanted to shoot him; and they had already lighted a lantern with that object when the order arrived for the prisoners to be taken to the depot of the Prefecture of Police. Two days afterwards he found himself in a casemate of the fort of Bicetre. Ever since then he had been suffering from hunger. He had felt hungry in the casemate, and the pangs of hunger had never since left him. A hundred men were pent in the depths of that cellar-like dungeon, where, scarce able to breathe, they devoured the few mouthfuls of bread that were thrown to them, like so many captive wild beasts.
When Florent was brought before an investigating magistrate, without anyone to defend him, and without any evidence being adduced, he was accused of belonging to a secret society; and when he swore that this was untrue, the magistrate produced the scrap of paper from amongst the documents before him: "Taken with blood-stained hands. Very dangerous." That was quite sufficient. He was condemned to transportation. Six weeks afterwards, one January night, a gaoler awoke him and locked him up in a courtyard with more than four hundred other prisoners. An hour later this first detachment started for the pontoons and exile, handcuffed and guarded by a double file of gendarmes with loaded muskets. They crossed the Austerlitz bridge, followed the line of the boulevards, and so reached the terminus of the Western Railway line. It was a joyous carnival night. The windows of the restaurants on the boulevards glittered with lights. At the top of the Rue Vivienne, just at the spot where he ever saw the young woman lying dead—that unknown young woman whose image he always bore with him—he now beheld a large carriage in which a party of masked women, with bare shoulders and laughing voices, were venting their impatience at being detained, and expressing their horror of that endless procession of convicts. The whole of the way from Paris to Havre the prisoners never received a mouthful of bread or a drink of water. The officials had forgotten to give them their rations before starting, and it was not till thirty-six hours afterwards, when they had been stowed away in the hold of the frigate Canada, that they at last broke their fast.
No, Florent had never again been free from hunger. He recalled all the past to mind, but could not recollect a single hour of satiety. He had become dry and withered; his stomach seemed to have shrunk; his skin clung to his bones. And now that he was back in Paris once more, he found it fat and sleek and flourishing, teeming with food in the midst of the darkness. He had returned to it on a couch of vegetables; he lingered in its midst encompassed by unknown masses of food which still and ever increased and disquieted him. Had that happy carnival night continued throughout those seven years, then? Once again he saw the glittering windows on the boulevards, the laughing women, the luxurious, greedy city which he had quitted on that far-away January night; and it seemed to him that everything had expanded and increased in harmony with those huge markets, whose gigantic breathing, still heavy from the indigestion of the previous day, he now began to hear.
Old Mother Chantemesse had by this time made up her mind to buy a dozen bunches of turnips. She put them in her apron, which she held closely pressed to her person, thus making herself look yet more corpulent than she was; and for some time longer she lingered there, still gossiping in a drawling voice. When at last she went away, Madame Francois again sat down by the side of Florent.
"Poor old Mother Chantemesse!" she said; "she must be at least seventy-two. I can remember her buying turnips of my father when I was a mere chit. And she hasn't a relation in the world; no one but a young hussy whom she picked up I don't know where and who does nothing but bring her trouble. Still, she manages to live, selling things by the ha'p'orth and clearing her couple of francs profit a day. For my own part, I'm sure that I could never spend my days on the foot-pavement in this horrid Paris! And she hasn't even any relations here!"
"You have some relations in Paris, I suppose?" she asked presently, seeing that Florent seemed disinclined to talk.
Florent did not appear to hear her. A feeling of distrust came back to him. His head was teeming with old stories of the police, stories of spies prowling about at every street corner, and of women selling the secrets which they managed to worm out of the unhappy fellows they deluded. Madame Francois was sitting close beside him and certainly looked perfectly straightforward and honest, with her big calm face, above which was bound a black and yellow handkerchief. She seemed about five and thirty years of age, and was somewhat stoutly built, with a certain hardy beauty due to her life in the fresh air. A pair of black eyes, which beamed with kindly tenderness, softened the more masculine characteristics of her person. She certainly was inquisitive, but her curiosity was probably well meant.
"I've a nephew in Paris," she continued, without seeming at all offended by Florent's silence. "He's turned out badly though, and has enlisted. It's a pleasant thing to have somewhere to go to and stay at, isn't it? I dare say there's a big surprise in store for your relations when they see you. But it's always a pleasure to welcome one of one's own people back again, isn't it?"
She kept her eyes fixed upon him while she spoke, doubtless compassionating his extreme scragginess; fancying, too, that there was a "gentleman" inside those old black rags, and so not daring to slip a piece of silver into his hand. At last, however, she timidly murmured: "All the same, if you should happen just at present to be in want of anything——"
But Florent checked her with uneasy pride. He told her that he had everything he required, and had a place to go to. She seemed quite pleased to hear this, and, as though to tranquillise herself concerning him, repeated several times: "Well, well, in that case you've only got to wait till daylight."
A large bell at the corner of the fruit market, just over Florent's head, now began to ring. The slow regular peals seemed to gradually dissipate the slumber that yet lingered all around. Carts were still arriving, and the shouts of the waggoners, the cracking of their whips, and the grinding of the paving-stones beneath the iron-bound wheels and the horses' shoes sounded with an increasing din. The carts could now only advance by a series of spasmodic jolts, and stretched in a long line, one behind the other, till they were lost to sight in the distant darkness, whence a confused roar ascended.
Unloading was in progress all along the Rue du Pont Neuf, the vehicles being drawn up close to the edge of the footways, while their teams stood motionless in close order as at a horse fair. Florent felt interested in one enormous tumbrel which was piled up with magnificent cabbages, and had only been backed to the kerb with the greatest difficulty. Its load towered above the lofty gas lamp whose bright light fell full upon the broad leaves which looked like pieces of dark green velvet, scalloped and goffered. A young peasant girl, some sixteen years old, in a blue linen jacket and cap, had climbed on to the tumbrel, where, buried in the cabbages to her shoulders, she took them one by one and threw them to somebody concealed in the shade below. Every now and then the girl would slip and vanish, overwhelmed by an avalanche of the vegetables, but her rosy nose soon reappeared amidst the teeming greenery, and she broke into a laugh while the cabbages again flew down between Florent and the gas lamp. He counted them mechanically as they fell. When the cart was emptied he felt worried.
The piles of vegetables on the pavement now extended to the verge of the roadway. Between the heaps, the market gardeners left narrow paths to enable people to pass along. The whole of the wide footway was covered from end to end with dark mounds. As yet, in the sudden dancing gleams of light from the lanterns, you only just espied the luxuriant fulness of the bundles of artichokes, the delicate green of the lettuces, the rosy coral of the carrots, and dull ivory of the turnips. And these gleams of rich colour flitted along the heaps, according as the lanterns came and went. The footway was now becoming populated: a crowd of people had awakened, and was moving hither and thither amidst the vegetables, stopping at times, and chattering and shouting. In the distance a loud voice could be heard crying, "Endive! who's got endive?" The gates of the pavilion devoted to the sale of ordinary vegetables had just been opened; and the retail dealers who had stalls there, with white caps on their heads, fichus knotted over their black jackets, and skirts pinned up to keep them from getting soiled, now began to secure their stock for the day, depositing their purchases in some huge porters' baskets placed upon the ground. Between the roadway and the pavilion these baskets were to be seen coming and going on all sides, knocking against the crowded heads of the bystanders, who resented the pushing with coarse expressions, whilst all around was a clamour of voices growing hoarse by prolonged wrangling over a sou or two. Florent was astonished by the calmness of the female market gardeners, with bandanas and bronzed faces, displayed amidst all this garrulous bargaining of the markets.
Behind him, on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau, fruit was being sold. Hampers and low baskets covered with canvas or straw stood there in long lines, a strong odour of over-ripe mirabelle plums was wafted hither and thither. At last a subdued and gentle voice, which he had heard for some time past, induced him to turn his head, and he saw a charming darksome little woman sitting on the ground and bargaining.
"Come now, Marcel," said she, "you'll take a hundred sous, won't you?"
The man to whom she was speaking was closely wrapped in his cloak and made no reply; however, after a silence of five minutes or more, the young woman returned to the charge.
"Come now, Marcel; a hundred sous for that basket there, and four francs for the other one; that'll make nine francs altogether."
Then came another interval.
"Well, tell me what you will take."
"Ten francs. You know that well enough already; I told you so before. But what have you done with your Jules this morning, La Sarriette?"
The young woman began to laugh as she took a handful of small change out of her pocket.
"Oh," she replied, "Jules is still in bed. He says that men were not intended to work."
She paid for the two baskets, and carried them into the fruit pavilion, which had just been opened. The market buildings still retained their gloom-wrapped aspect of airy fragility, streaked with the thousand lines of light that gleamed from the venetian shutters. People were beginning to pass along the broad covered streets intersecting the pavilions, but the more distant buildings still remained deserted amidst the increasing buzz of life on the footways. By Saint Eustache the bakers and wine sellers were taking down their shutters, and the ruddy shops, with their gas lights flaring, showed like gaps of fire in the gloom in which the grey house-fronts were yet steeped. Florent noticed a baker's shop on the left-hand side of the Rue Montorgueil, replete and golden with its last baking, and fancied he could scent the pleasant smell of the hot bread. It was now half past four.
Madame Francois by this time had disposed of nearly all her stock. She had only a few bunches of carrots left when Lacaille once more made his appearance with his sack.
"Well," said he, "will you take a sou now?"
"I knew I should see you again," the good woman quietly answered. "You'd better take all I have left. There are seventeen bunches."
"That makes seventeen sous."
At last they agreed to fix the price at twenty-five sous. Madame Francois was anxious to be off.
"He'd been keeping his eye upon me all the time," she said to Florent, when Lacaille had gone off with the carrots in his sack. "That old rogue runs things down all over the markets, and he often waits till the last peal of the bell before spending four sous in purchase. Oh, these Paris folk! They'll wrangle and argue for an hour to save half a sou, and then go off and empty their purses at the wine shop."
Whenever Madame Francois talked of Paris she always spoke in a tone of disdain, and referred to the city as though it were some ridiculous, contemptible, far-away place, in which she only condescended to set foot at nighttime.
"There!" she continued, sitting down again, beside Florent, on some vegetables belonging to a neighbour, "I can get away now."
Florent bent his head. He had just committed a theft. When Lacaille went off he had caught sight of a carrot lying on the ground, and having picked it up he was holding it tightly in his right hand. Behind him were some bundles of celery and bunches of parsley were diffusing pungent odours which painfully affected him.
"Well, I'm off now!" said Madame Francois.
However, she felt interested in this stranger, and could divine that he was suffering there on that foot-pavement, from which he had never stirred. She made him fresh offers of assistance, but he again refused them, with a still more bitter show of pride. He even got up and remained standing to prove that he was quite strong again. Then, as Madame Francois turned her head away, he put the carrot to his mouth. But he had to remove it for a moment, in spite of the terrible longing which he felt to dig his teeth into it; for Madame Francois turned round again and looking him full in the face, began to question him with her good-natured womanly curiosity. Florent, to avoid speaking, merely answered by nods and shakes of the head. Then, slowly and gently, he began to eat the carrot.
The worthy woman was at last on the point of going off, when a powerful voice exclaimed close beside her, "Good morning, Madame Francois."
The speaker was a slim young man, with big bones and a big head. His face was bearded, and he had a very delicate nose and narrow sparkling eyes. He wore on his head a rusty, battered, black felt hat, and was buttoned up in an immense overcoat, which had once been of a soft chestnut hue, but which rain had discoloured and streaked with long greenish stains. Somewhat bent, and quivering with a nervous restlessness which was doubtless habitual with him, he stood there in a pair of heavy laced shoes, and the shortness of his trousers allowed a glimpse of his coarse blue hose.
"Good morning, Monsieur Claude," the market gardener replied cheerfully. "I expected you, you know, last Monday, and, as you didn't come, I've taken care of your canvas for you. I've hung it up on a nail in my room."
"You are really very kind, Madame Francois. I'll go to finish that study of mine one of these days. I wasn't able to go on Monday. Has your big plum tree still got all its leaves?"
"I wanted to know, because I mean to put it in a corner of the picture. It will come in nicely by the side of the fowl house. I have been thinking about it all the week. What lovely vegetables are in the market this morning! I came down very early, expecting a fine sunrise effect upon all these heaps of cabbages."
With a wave of the arm he indicated the footway.
"Well, well, I must be off now," said Madame Francois. "Good-bye for the present. We shall meet again soon, I hope, Monsieur Claude."
However, as she turned to go, she introduced Florent to the young artist.
"This gentleman, it seems, has just come from a distance," said she. "He feels quite lost in your scampish Paris. I dare say you might be of service to him."
Then she at last took her departure, feeling pleased at having left the two men together. Claude looked at Florent with a feeling of interest. That tall, slight, wavy figure seemed to him original. Madame Francois's hasty presentation was in his eyes quite sufficient, and he addressed Florent with the easy familiarity of a lounger accustomed to all sorts of chance encounters.
"I'll accompany you," he said; "which way are you going?"
Florent felt ill at ease; he was not wont to unbosom himself so readily. However, ever since his arrival in Paris, a question had been trembling on his lips, and now he ventured to ask it, with the evident fear of receiving an unfavourable reply.
"Is the Rue Pirouette still in existence?"
"Oh, yes," answered the artist. "A very curious corner of old Paris is the Rue Pirouette. It twists and turns like a dancing girl, and the houses bulge out like pot-bellied gluttons. I've made an etching of it that isn't half bad. I'll show it to you when you come to see me. Is it to the Rue Pirouette that you want to go?"
Florent, who felt easier and more cheerful now that he knew the street still existed, declared that he did not want to go there; in fact, he did not want to go anywhere in particular. All his distrust awoke into fresh life at Claude's insistence.
"Oh! never mind," said the artist, "let's go to the Rue Pirouette all the same. It has such a fine colour at night time. Come along; it's only a couple of yards away."
Florent felt constrained to follow him, and the two men walked off, side by side, stepping over the hampers and vegetables like a couple of old friends. On the footway of the Rue Rambuteau there were some immense heaps of cauliflowers, symmetrically piled up like so many cannonballs. The soft-white flowers spread out like huge roses in the midst of their thick green leaves, and the piles had something of the appearance of bridal bouquets ranged in a row in colossal flower stands. Claude stopped in front of them, venting cries of admiration.
Then, on turning into the Rue Pirouette, which was just opposite, he pointed out each house to his companion, and explained his views concerning it. There was only a single gas lamp, burning in a corner. The buildings, which had settled down and swollen, threw their pent-houses forward in such wise as to justify Claude's allusion to pot-bellied gluttons, whilst their gables receded, and on either side they clung to their neighbours for support. Three or four, however, standing in gloomy recesses, appeared to be on the point of toppling forward. The solitary gas lamp illumined one which was snowy with a fresh coat of whitewash, suggesting some flabby broken-down old dowager, powdered and bedaubed in the hope of appearing young. Then the others stretched away into the darkness, bruised, dented, and cracked, greeny with the fall of water from their roofs, and displaying such an extraordinary variety of attitudes and tints that Claude could not refrain from laughing as he contemplated them.
Florent, however, came to stand at the corner of the rue de Mondetour, in front of the last house but one on the left. Here the three floors, each with two shutterless windows, having little white curtains closely drawn, seemed wrapped in sleep; but, up above, a light could be seen flitting behind the curtains of a tiny gable casement. However, the sight of the shop beneath the pent-house seemed to fill Florent with the deepest emotion. It was kept by a dealer in cooked vegetables, and was just being opened. At its far end some metal pans were glittering, while on several earthen ones in the window there was a display of cooked spinach and endive, reduced to a paste and arranged in conical mounds from which customers were served with shovel-like carvers of white metal, only the handles of which were visible. This sight seemed to rivet Florent to the ground with surprise. He evidently could not recognize the place. He read the name of the shopkeeper, Godeboeuf, which was painted on a red sign board up above, and remained quite overcome by consternation. His arms dangling beside him, he began to examine the cooked spinach, with the despairing air of one on whom some supreme misfortune falls.
However, the gable casement was now opened, and a little old woman leaned out of it, and looked first at the sky and then at the markets in the distance.
"Ah, Mademoiselle Saget is an early riser," exclaimed Claude, who had just raised his head. And, turning to his companion, he added: "I once had an aunt living in that house. It's a regular hive of tittle-tattle! Ah, the Mehudins are stirring now, I see. There's a light on the second floor."
Florent would have liked to question his companion, but the latter's long discoloured overcoat give him a disquieting appearance. So without a word Florent followed him, whilst he went on talking about the Mehudins. These Mehudins were fish-girls, it seemed; the older one was a magnificent creature, while the younger one, who sold fresh-water fish, reminded Claude of one of Murillo's virgins, whenever he saw her standing with her fair face amidst her carps and eels.
From this Claude went on to remark with asperity that Murillo painted like an ignoramus. But all at once he stopped short in the middle of the street.
"Come!" he exclaimed, "tell me where it is that you want to go."
"I don't want to go anywhere just at present," replied Florent in confusion. "Let's go wherever you like."
Just as they were leaving the Rue Pirouette, some one called to Claude from a wine shop at the corner of the street. The young man went in, dragging Florent with him. The shutters had been taken down on one side only, and the gas was still burning in the sleepy atmosphere of the shop. A forgotten napkin and some cards that had been used in the previous evening's play were still lying on the tables; and the fresh breeze that streamed in through the open doorway freshened the close, warm vinous air. The landlord, Monsieur Lebigre, was serving his customers. He wore a sleeved waistcoat, and his fat regular features, fringed by an untidy beard, were still pale with sleep. Standing in front of the counter, groups of men, with heavy, tired eyes, were drinking, coughing, and spitting, whilst trying to rouse themselves by the aid of white wine and brandy. Amongst them Florent recognised Lacaille, whose sack now overflowed with various sorts of vegetables. He was taking his third dram with a friend, who was telling him a long story about the purchase of a hamper of potatoes.[*] When he had emptied his glass, he went to chat with Monsieur Lebigre in a little glazed compartment at the end of the room, where the gas had not yet been lighted.
[*] At the Paris central markets potatoes are sold by the hamper, not by the sack as in England.—Translator.
"What will you take?" Claude asked of Florent.
He had on entering grasped the hand of the person who had called out to him. This was a market porter,[*] a well-built young man of two and twenty at the most. His cheeks and chin were clean-shaven, but he wore a small moustache, and looked a sprightly, strapping fellow with his broad-brimmed hat covered with chalk, and his wool-worked neck-piece, the straps falling from which tightened his short blue blouse. Claude, who called him Alexandre, patted his arms, and asked him when they were going to Charentonneau again. Then they talked about a grand excursion they had made together in a boat on the Marne, when they had eaten a rabbit for supper in the evening.
[*] Fort is the French term, literally "a strong man," as every market porter needs to be.—Translator.
"Well, what will you take?" Claude again asked Florent.
The latter looked at the counter in great embarrassment. At one end of it some stoneware pots, encircled with brass bands and containing punch and hot wine, were standing over the short blue flames of a gas stove. Florent at last confessed that a glass of something warm would be welcome. Monsieur Lebigre thereupon served them with three glasses of punch. In a basket near the pots were some smoking hot rolls which had only just arrived. However, as neither of the others took one, Florent likewise refrained, and drank his punch. He felt it slipping down into his empty stomach, like a steam of molten lead. It was Alexandre who paid for the "shout."
"He's a fine fellow, that Alexandre!" said Claude, when he and Florent found themselves alone again on the footway of the Rue Rambuteau. "He's a very amusing companion to take into the country. He's fond of showing his strength. And then he's so magnificently built! I have seen him stripped. Ah, if I could only get him to pose for me in the nude out in the open air! Well, we'll go and take a turn through the markets now, if you like."
Florent followed, yielding entirely to his new friend's guidance. A bright glow at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau announced the break of day. The far-spreading voice of the markets was become more sonorous, and every now and then the peals of a bell ringing in some distant pavilion mingled with the swelling, rising clamour. Claude and Florent entered one of the covered streets between the fish and poultry pavilions. Florent raised his eyes and looked at the lofty vault overhead, the inner timbers of which glistened amidst a black lacework of iron supports. As he turned into the great central thoroughfare he pictured himself in some strange town, with its various districts and suburbs, promenades and streets, squares and cross-roads, all suddenly placed under shelter on a rainy day by the whim of some gigantic power. The deep gloom brooding in the hollows of the roofs multiplied, as it were, the forest of pillars, and infinitely increased the number of the delicate ribs, railed galleries, and transparent shutters. And over the phantom city and far away into the depths of the shade, a teeming, flowering vegetation of luxuriant metal-work, with spindle-shaped stems and twining knotted branches, covered the vast expanse as with the foliage of some ancient forest. Several departments of the markets still slumbered behind their closed iron gates. The butter and poultry pavilions displayed rows of little trellised stalls and long alleys, which lines of gas lights showed to be deserted. The fish market, however, had just been opened, and women were flitting to and fro amongst the white slabs littered with shadowy hampers and cloths. Among the vegetables and fruit and flowers the noise and bustle were gradually increasing. The whole place was by degree waking up, from the popular quarter where the cabbages are piled at four o'clock in the morning, to the lazy and wealthy district which only hangs up its pullets and pheasants when the hands of the clock point to eight.
The great covered alleys were now teeming with life. All along the footways on both sides of the road there were still many market gardeners, with other small growers from the environs of Paris, who displayed baskets containing their "gatherings" of the previous evening—bundles of vegetables and clusters of fruit. Whilst the crowd incessantly paced hither and thither, vehicles barred the road; and Florent, in order to pass them, had to press against some dingy sacks, like coal-sacks in appearance, and so numerous and heavy that the axle-trees of the vans bent beneath them. They were quite damp, and exhaled a fresh odour of seaweed. From a rent low down in the side of one of them a black stream of big mussels was trickling.
Florent and Claude had now to pause at every step. The fish was arriving and one after another the drays of the railway companies drove up laden with wooden cages full of the hampers and baskets that had come by train from the sea coast. And to get out of the way of the fish drays, which became more and more numerous and disquieting, the artist and Florent rushed amongst the wheels of the drays laden with butter and eggs and cheese, huge yellow vehicles bearing coloured lanterns, and drawn by four horses. The market porters carried the cases of eggs, and baskets of cheese and butter, into the auction pavilion, where clerks were making entries in note books by the light of the gas.
Claude was quite charmed with all this uproar, and forgot everything to gaze at some effect of light, some group of blouses, or the picturesque unloading of a cart. At last they extricated themselves from the crowd, and as they continued on their way along the main artery they presently found themselves amidst an exquisite perfume which seemed to be following them. They were in the cut-flower market. All over the footways, to the right and left, women were seated in front of large rectangular baskets full of bunches of roses, violets, dahlias, and marguerites. At times the clumps darkened and looked like splotches of blood, at others they brightened into silvery greys of the softest tones. A lighted candle, standing near one basket, set amidst the general blackness quite a melody of colour—the bright variegations of marguerites, the blood-red crimson of dahlias, the bluey purple of violets, and the warm flesh tints of roses. And nothing could have been sweeter or more suggestive of springtide than this soft breath of perfume encountered on the footway, on emerging from the sharp odours of the fish market and the pestilential smell of the butter and the cheese.
Claude and Florent turned round and strolled about, loitering among the flowers. They halted with some curiosity before several women who were selling bunches of fern and bundles of vine-leaves, neatly tied up in packets of five and twenty. Then they turned down another covered alley, which was almost deserted, and where their footsteps echoed as though they had been walking through a church. Here they found a little cart, scarcely larger than a wheelbarrow, to which was harnessed a diminutive donkey, who, no doubt, felt bored, for at sight of them he began braying with such prolonged and sonorous force that the vast roofing of the markets fairly trembled. Then the horses began to neigh in reply, there was a sound of pawing and tramping, a distant uproar, which swelled, rolled along, then died away.
Meantime, in the Rue Berger in front of them, Claude and Florent perceived a number of bare, frontless, salesmen's shops, where, by the light of flaring gas jets, they could distinguish piles of hampers and fruit, enclosed by three dirty walls which were covered with addition sums in pencil. And the two wanderers were still standing there, contemplating this scene, when they noticed a well-dressed woman huddled up in a cab which looked quite lost and forlorn in the block of carts as it stealthily made its way onwards.
"There's Cinderella coming back without her slippers," remarked Claude with a smile.
They began chatting together as they went back towards the markets. Claude whistled as he strolled along with his hands in his pockets, and expatiated on his love for this mountain of food which rises every morning in the very centre of Paris. He prowled about the footways night after night, dreaming of colossal still-life subjects, paintings of an extraordinary character. He had even started on one, having his friend Marjolin and that jade Cadine to pose for him; but it was hard work to paint those confounded vegetables and fruit and fish and meat—they were all so beautiful! Florent listened to the artist's enthusiastic talk with a void and hunger-aching stomach. It did not seem to occur to Claude that all those things were intended to be eaten. Their charm for him lay in their colour. Suddenly, however, he ceased speaking and, with a gesture that was habitual to him, tightened the long red sash which he wore under his green-stained coat.
And then with a sly expression he resumed:
"Besides, I breakfast here, through my eyes, at any rate, and that's better than getting nothing at all. Sometimes, when I've forgotten to dine on the previous day, I treat myself to a perfect fit of indigestion in the morning by watching the carts arrive here laden with all sorts of good things. On such mornings as those I love my vegetables more than ever. Ah! the exasperating part, the rank injustice of it all, is that those rascally Philistines really eat these things!"
Then he went on to tell Florent of a supper to which a friend had treated him at Baratte's on a day of affluence. They had partaken of oysters, fish, and game. But Baratte's had sadly fallen, and all the carnival life of the old Marche des Innocents was now buried. In place thereof they had those huge central markets, that colossus of ironwork, that new and wonderful town. Fools might say what they liked; it was the embodiment of the spirit of the times. Florent, however, could not at first make out whether he was condemning the picturesqueness of Baratte's or its good cheer.
But Claude next began to inveigh against romanticism. He preferred his piles of vegetables, he said, to the rags of the middle ages; and he ended by reproaching himself with guilty weakness in making an etching of the Rue Pirouette. All those grimy old places ought to be levelled to the ground, he declared, and modern houses ought to be built in their stead.
"There!" he exclaimed, coming to a halt, "look at the corner of the footway yonder! Isn't that a picture readymade, ever so much more human and natural than all their confounded consumptive daubs?"
Along the covered way women were now selling hot soup and coffee. At one corner of the foot-pavement a large circle of customers clustered round a vendor of cabbage soup. The bright tin caldron, full of broth, was steaming over a little low stove, through the holes of which came the pale glow of the embers. From a napkin-lined basket the woman took some thin slices of bread and dropped them into yellow cups; then with a ladle she filled the cups with liquor. Around her were saleswomen neatly dressed, market gardeners in blouses, porters with coats soiled by the loads they had carried, poor ragged vagabonds—in fact, all the early hungry ones of the markets, eating, and scalding their mouths, and drawing back their chins to avoid soiling them with the drippings from their spoons. The delighted artist blinked, and sought a point of view so as to get a good ensemble of the picture. That cabbage soup, however, exhaled a very strong odour. Florent, for his part, turned his head away, distressed by the sight of the full cups which the customers emptied in silence, glancing around them the while like suspicious animals. As the woman began serving a fresh customer, Claude himself was affected by the odorous steam of the soup, which was wafted full in his face.
He again tightened his sash, half amused and half annoyed. Then resuming his walk, and alluding to the punch paid for by Alexandre, he said to Florent in a low voice:
"It's very odd, but have you ever noticed that although a man can always find somebody to treat him to something to drink, he can never find a soul who will stand him anything to eat?"
The dawn was now rising. The houses on the Boulevard de Sebastopol at the end of the Rue de la Cossonnerie were still black; but above the sharp line of their slate roofs a patch of pale blue sky, circumscribed by the arch-pieces of the covered way, showed like a gleaming half-moon. Claude, who had been bending over some grated openings on a level with the ground, through which a glimpse could be obtained of deep cellars where gas lights glimmered, now glanced up into the air between the lofty pillars, as though scanning the dark roofs which fringed the clear sky. Then he halted again, with his eyes fixed on one of the light iron ladders which connect the superposed market roofs and give access from one to the other. Florent asked him what he was seeking there.
"I'm looking for that scamp of a Marjolin," replied the artist. "He's sure to be in some guttering up there, unless, indeed, he's been spending the night in the poultry cellars. I want him to give me a sitting."
Then he went on to relate how a market saleswoman had found his friend Marjolin one morning in a pile of cabbages, and how Marjolin had grown up in all liberty on the surrounding footways. When an attempt had been made to send him to school he had fallen ill, and it had been necessary to bring him back to the markets. He knew every nook and corner of them, and loved them with a filial affection, leading the agile life of a squirrel in that forest of ironwork. He and Cadine, the hussy whom Mother Chantemesse had picked up one night in the old Market of the Innocents, made a pretty couple—he, a splendid foolish fellow, as glowing as a Rubens, with a ruddy down on his skin which attracted the sunlight; and she, slight and sly, with a comical phiz under her tangle of black curly hair.
Whilst talking Claude quickened his steps, and soon brought his companion back to Saint Eustache again. Florent, whose legs were once more giving way, dropped upon a bench near the omnibus office. The morning air was freshening. At the far end of the Rue Rambuteau rosy gleams were streaking the milky sky, which higher up was slashed by broad grey rifts. Such was the sweet balsamic scent of this dawn, that Florent for a moment fancied himself in the open country, on the brow of a hill. But behind the bench Claude pointed out to him the many aromatic herbs and bulbs on sale. All along the footway skirting the tripe market there were, so to say, fields of thyme and lavender, garlic and shallots; and round the young plane-trees on the pavement the vendors had twined long branches of laurel, forming trophies of greenery. The strong scent of the laurel leaves prevailed over every other odour.
At present the luminous dial of Saint Eustache was paling as a night-light does when surprised by the dawn. The gas jets in the wine shops in the neighbouring streets went out one by one, like stars extinguished by the brightness. And Florent gazed at the vast markets now gradually emerging from the gloom, from the dreamland in which he had beheld them, stretching out their ranges of open palaces. Greenish-grey in hue, they looked more solid now, and even more colossal with their prodigious masting of columns upholding an endless expanse of roofs. They rose up in geometrically shaped masses; and when all the inner lights had been extinguished and the square uniform buildings were steeped in the rising dawn, they seemed typical of some gigantic modern machine, some engine, some caldron for the supply of a whole people, some colossal belly, bolted and riveted, built up of wood and glass and iron, and endowed with all the elegance and power of some mechanical motive appliance working there with flaring furnaces, and wild, bewildering revolutions of wheels.
Claude, however, had enthusiastically sprung on to the bench, and stood upon it. He compelled his companion to admire the effect of the dawn rising over the vegetables. There was a perfect sea of these extending between the two clusters of pavilions from Saint Eustache to the Rue des Halles. And in the two open spaces at either end the flood of greenery rose to even greater height, and quite submerged the pavements. The dawn appeared slowly, softly grey in hue, and spreading a light water-colour tint over everything. These surging piles akin to hurrying waves, this river of verdure rushing along the roadway like an autumn torrent, assumed delicate shadowy tints—tender violet, blush-rose, and greeny yellow, all the soft, light hues which at sunrise make the sky look like a canopy of shot silk. And by degrees, as the fires of dawn rose higher and higher at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau, the mass of vegetation grew brighter and brighter, emerging more and more distinctly from the bluey gloom that clung to the ground. Salad herbs, cabbage-lettuce, endive, and succory, with rich soil still clinging to their roots, exposed their swelling hearts; bundles of spinach, bundles of sorrel, clusters of artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mounds of cos-lettuce, tied round with straws, sounded every note in the whole gamut of greenery, from the sheeny lacquer-like green of the pods to the deep-toned green of the foliage; a continuous gamut with ascending and descending scales which died away in the variegated tones of the heads of celery and bundles of leeks. But the highest and most sonorous notes still came from the patches of bright carrots and snowy turnips, strewn in prodigious quantities all along the markets and lighting them up with the medley of their two colours.
At the crossway in the Rue des Halles cabbages were piled up in mountains; there were white ones, hard and compact as metal balls, curly savoys, whose great leaves made them look like basins of green bronze, and red cabbages, which the dawn seemed to transform into superb masses of bloom with the hue of wine-lees, splotched with dark purple and carmine. At the other side of the markets, at the crossway near Saint Eustache, the end of the Rue Rambuteau was blocked by a barricade of orange-hued pumpkins, sprawling with swelling bellies in two superposed rows. And here and there gleamed the glistening ruddy brown of a hamper of onions, the blood-red crimson of a heap of tomatoes, the quiet yellow of a display of marrows, and the sombre violet of the fruit of the eggplant; while numerous fat black radishes still left patches of gloom amidst the quivering brilliance of the general awakening.