Having got rid of La Rousse, who was too fat and no longer calved, Lise and Françoise had resolved to go that Saturday to Cloyes market to buy another cow, Jean offering to drive them there in one of the farm carts. He had kept his afternoon free, and the master had given him permission to take the vehicle, on account of the rumours which were current concerning the young fellow's betrothal to the elder girl. The marriage was, in fact, decided on; or, at least, Jean had promised to lay the question in person before Buteau during the following week. The matter needed settlement; one or the other of them must marry the girl.
So they started off at about one o'clock, he in front with Lise, and Françoise by herself on the other seat. From time to time he turned round and smiled at the younger girl, whose knees were in warm contact with his loins. 'Twas a great pity that she was fifteen years younger than he; and although, after much reflection and many deferments, he had resigned himself to his marriage with the elder girl, it was, no doubt, the idea of living as a relative near Françoise that really influenced him. And then, how many things we do out of passivity, without knowing why, except that we did once determine to do them.
As they entered Cloyes, Jean applied the brake and urged the horse down the steep declivity near the burying-ground. As he came out at the intersection of the Rue Grande and the Rue Grouaise, intending to put up at "The Jolly Ploughman" hostelry, he pointed abruptly to the back of a man who was going along the latter street.
"Hallo! That looks like Buteau," he said.
"It is Buteau," declared Lise.
"No doubt he's going to Monsieur Baillehache's. Does he mean to accept his share of the land?"
Jean smacked his whip with a laugh.
"There's no knowing," he said. "He's a deep one!"
Although Buteau had recognised them a good way off, he made no sign. He went trudging on, with his back bent; and they both watched him out of sight, thinking to themselves that possibly they would have an opportunity for an explanation on reaching the courtyard of "The Jolly Ploughman." Françoise, who had remained silent, got down first by one of the wheels. The yard was already full of unharnessed vehicles, resting on their shafts, and the old buildings of the inn were buzzing with life.
"Now, are we going there?" asked Jean on his return from the stable, whither he had been with his horse.
"Certainly, at once."
When outside, however, instead of making straight for the cattle-market—which stood on the Place Saint-Georges—by taking the Rue du Temple, the young man and the girls hung about and sauntered down the Rue Grande, through the vegetable and fruit-sellers who lined the street on either side. He wore a silk cap, and a large blue blouse over black cloth trousers; while the girls, likewise in holiday clothes, with their hair done up close under their little round caps, wore dresses to match each other—a dark-coloured woollen bodice above an iron-grey skirt, relieved by a large cotton apron with narrow pink stripes. They did not link arms, but walked in Indian file, their hands swinging loosely amid the jostling of the crowd. There was a crush of servants and ladies in front of the squatting peasant-women, who, on arriving with one or two baskets apiece, had set them down on the ground and opened them. They recognised La Frimat, whose hands were blue with having carried her load from Rognes, and who had a little of everything in her two overflowing baskets—some salad, beans, plums, and even three live rabbits. An old man, alongside, had just emptied out a cart-load of potatoes, which he was selling by the bushel. Two women, mother and daughter—the latter a notorious street-walker, named Norine—had exposed on a rickety table some cod, salt herrings, and bloaters, the mere remnants of barrels, the strong brine of which made one's throat smart. The Rue Grande, so deserted on the other days of the week, despite its handsome shops—its chemist's, its ironmonger's, and, above all, its emporium of Parisian novelties, Lambourdieu's bazaar—proved too narrow every Saturday; the shops being crammed full, the vehicles blocked, and the roadway fairly choked by the encroachments of the market-women.
Lise and Françoise, followed by Jean, worked their way as far as the poultry-market, in the Rue Beaudonnière, whither the farmers had sent vast crates, in which cocks were crowing, and from which the necks of affrighted ducks protruded. Chickens, dead and plucked, were ranged in deep layers inside numerous packing-cases. Here also one saw some more peasant-women, each of whom had brought her four or five pounds of butter, her two dozen eggs, and her cheeses—large dry ones, small rich ones, and others of a greyish tinge, which had been moistened with wine, and had a pronounced pungent flavour. Others had come with two pairs of fowls tied by their feet. Ladies were haggling, and a large consignment of eggs had caused a crowd to cluster in front of an inn—"The Poulterer's Meeting House." It so happened that Palmyre was among the men who were unloading the eggs. Indeed, on Saturdays, when there was a dearth of work at Rognes, she hired out her services at Cloyes, carrying burdens which made her stagger.
"There's no denying she earns her livelihood!" remarked Jean.
The crowd was now growing denser and denser. Vehicles still poured in by the Mondoubleau road, defiling over the bridge at a jog trot. On either hand stretched the gentle curves of the Loir, running flush with the meadows, and embanked on the left with the town gardens, whose lilacs and laburnums drooped down to the water's edge. There was a bark-mill, clicking noisily up stream, together with a large flour-mill—a huge building, whitened by a constant stream of meal from the blowers on the roof.
"Well!" said Jean again, "are we going there?"
Then they retraced their steps up the Rue Grande, stopping once more on the Place Saint-Lubin, opposite the municipal offices, where the corn-market was held. Lengaigne, who had brought four sacks, was standing there with his hands in his pockets. In the middle of a ring of silent, downcast peasants, Hourdequin was angrily holding forth. A rise had been looked for; but even the current price—eighteen francs—was unsteady, and a final fall of five sous was apprehended. Macqueron went by with his daughter Berthe on his arm; he in a badly-cleaned overcoat, and she dressed in muslin, with a bunch of roses in her hat.
As Lise and Françoise, after turning down the Rue du Temple, were skirting Saint-George's Church, against which the hawkers installed themselves with haberdashery, ironmongery, and parcels of stuffs, they ejaculated: "Oh, there's aunt Rose."
And, indeed, it was the old woman. Fanny had come instead of Delhomme to deliver some oats, and had brought her mother in the cart, just to give her an outing. They were both waiting in front of the movable stall of a knife-grinder, to whom the old woman had given her scissors. For thirty years past he had ground them.
"Hallo! It's you!" said Fanny, as she turned round; and on perceiving Jean, she added: "So you're out for an airing?"
But when Rose and Fanny found out that the cousins were going to buy a cow, to supply the place of La Rousse, they grew interested and joined them, the oats having been already delivered.
The young man, left to himself, now walked behind the four women, who formed an open line, all abreast; and thus they turned on to the Place Saint-Georges.
This was a huge square, more than a hundred yards each way, stretching behind the apsis of the church, which overshadowed it with its old and lofty clock-tower of ruddy stone. Avenues of leafy limes enclosed the four sides, along two of which, moreover, there extended some chains riveted to stone posts, while on the other two sides there were long bars of wood, to which the animals were tethered. On this side of the open space, which fronted some gardens, the grass was growing as in an open meadow; but the opposite side, which was flanked by two roads and bordered by various inns—"The Saint-George," "The Root," and "The Jolly Reapers"—was downtrodden, hardened, and white with dust, which the wind blew to and fro.
Lise and Françoise, followed by the others, had some difficulty in making their way across the centre of the Place, where the crowd was congregated. Amid the confused mass of blouses of all shades, from the bright blue of new linen to the pale blue of twenty washings, nothing could be seen of the women save the round white spots of their little caps. A few ladies were bearing glistening silk parasols hither and thither. Laughter and sudden shouts were heard, mingling at last with the mighty animate murmur, upon which now and then there broke the neigh of a horse or the lowing of a cow. A donkey also set a-braying lustily.
"This way," said Lise, turning her head. The horses were at the far end, tethered to the bar, their coats bare and quivering, and with a cord knotted to their necks and tails. On the left, the cows were almost all loose, and were led to and fro by the vendors, who wished to show them off better. Groups of people stopped and looked at them; and hereabouts there was no laughter and but little talking, merely a few scattered words now and then.
The four women at once fell into contemplation of a black and white Cotentine cow, which was offered for sale by a man and his wife. The latter, dark-complexioned and stubborn-looking, stood holding the animal in front; the man being in the rear, motionless and uncommunicative. The scrutiny lasted ten minutes, and was solemn and exhaustive; but not a word or a glance was exchanged. They moved on, and stationed themselves similarly in front of a second cow twenty paces off. This was a huge one, quite black, and was offered for sale by a young and pretty-looking girl, almost a child, who held a hazel-rod in her hand. Then followed seven more halts, as long and as silent as the previous ones, till the line of animals for sale was exhausted. Finally the four women went back to the first cow, and again became absorbed in contemplation.
This time, however, it was a more serious matter. Drawn up in a line, they pierced the Cotentine cow through and through with their keen, concentrated gaze. On her side, also, the woman who wished to sell it had said nothing, and her glance was elsewhere, as if she had not seen them come back and draw up in line.
At last Fanny bent down and whispered a brief remark to Lise about the animal. Old Rose and Françoise also exchanged impressions in a whisper. Then they relapsed into silence and immobility, and the scrutiny was continued.
"How much?" Lise suddenly asked.
"Four hundred francs," replied the peasant woman.
They affected to be driven away by this, and as they were looking for Jean they were surprised to find him behind them with Buteau, the two chatting together like old friends. Buteau had come from La Chamade to buy a porker, and was negotiating for one on the spot. The pigs, which were in a movable pen at the back-end of the vehicle that had brought them, were biting one another and deafening the air with their squeals.
"Will you take twenty francs?" asked Buteau.
"Fiddle! Go to bed with 'em!"
Bluff and merry, he went up to the women; accosting his mother, his sister, and his two cousins just as radiantly as if he had only left them on the previous day. They also were undisturbed, and seemed to have forgotten the two years of bickering and ill-feeling. The mother alone, who had been apprised of the first encounter in the Rue Grouaise, watched him out of her puckered eyes; trying to gather why he had been to the notary's. But of this there was no indication on his face, and neither of them said a word on the subject.
"So, cousin," he went on, "you're after buying a cow? Jean told me. Well, there's one over there, something like an animal! The sturdiest in the market!"
He then pointed to the identical black and white Cotentine cow.
"Four hundred francs!" said Françoise. "Thank you for nothing."
"Four hundred francs for you, my little dear!" said he, tapping her jocularly on the back.
She fired up, however, and returned his tap, angry and resentfully.
"Just you let me alone, will you? I don't play with men."
He made merrier still at this, and turned to Lise, who had remained serious and rather pale.
"And you? Will you let me have a hand in it? I wager I'll get it for three hundred. Will you bet five francs?"
"All right; if you like to have a try, you may."
Rose and Fanny nodded approval. They knew this ferocious fellow of old; a stubborn bargainer he was, an impudent liar and swindler, selling things at three times their value, and getting everything for a mere song. So the women let him go to the fore with Jean, while they hung back in the rear, so that he might not seem to belong to their party.
The crowd was growing denser around the cattle. The groups of loungers were leaving the sunny central space for the side avenues, where they strolled continually to and fro; the blue of their blouses darkened by the shadow of the lime-trees, and their ruddy countenances tinged with green by the reflection of the swaying patches of leaves. However, no one was as yet making purchases; not a sale had taken place, although the market had been open for more than an hour. The purchasers and vendors were taking time for consideration, and were warily scrutinising each other askance. In front of the cows there were now more people sauntering along and making prolonged halts. Overhead, the sound of a riot was borne past on the wings of the warm breeze. It was caused by two horses, tied side by side, who were rearing, biting each other, neighing furiously, and pawing the pavement with their hoofs. There was a fright, and some women fled, while quiet was restored by a shower of blows from a whip, crackling like a discharge of firearms, and accompanied by oaths. Then in the clearance made by the panic, a flock of pigeons alighted on the ground, and hurried along picking oats from the dung.
"Well, gammer! what's your price?" Buteau asked the peasant-woman.
The latter, who had observed the manœuvres of the party, repeated calmly: "Four hundred francs."
At first he treated the matter lightly, and joked, addressing the man, who was still standing silent and apart:
"I say, old 'un! is your good-woman thrown in at that price?"
During his banter, however, he made a close examination of the cow, and found it constituted as a good milker should be—with a wiry head, slender horns, and big eyes; the belly well-developed and streaked with large veins; the limbs inclining to slimness; the tail thin, and set very high. Stooping down, he assured himself of the length of the udders and the elasticity of the teats, which were regularly defined in position and well pierced. Then, resting one hand on the animal, he began bargaining, while he mechanically felt the bones of the crupper.
"Four hundred francs, eh? You're joking! Will you take three hundred?"
Meanwhile, with his hand he was verifying the strength and proper arrangement of the bones. Then he let his fingers slip between the thighs, to the part where the bare skin, of a fine saffron colour, bespoke an abundance of milk.
"Three hundred francs. Is it agreed?"
"No; four hundred," replied the peasant-woman.
He then turned away. When he came back, she decided to speak.
"She's a first-rate animal, indeed, in all points. She'll be two years old come Trinity Sunday, and she'll calve in a fortnight. She'd surely be just the thing for you."
"Three hundred francs," he repeated.
Then, as he was retreating, she glanced at her husband and called out:
"Here! So that I may get back, say three hundred and fifty, and have done with it."
He had stopped short, and now he began to run the cow down. She wasn't firmly set; her loins were weak; in short, she had been an ailing animal, and would have to be kept for a couple of years at a loss. Then he asserted that she was lame, which was not true. He lied for lying's sake, with obvious bad faith, hoping to irritate the woman and make her lose her head. But she only shrugged her shoulders.
"Three hundred francs."
"No; three hundred and fifty."
This time she let him go off. He rejoined the women; told them that the bait was taking, and that they must bargain for some other animal. So the party took their stand in front of the large black cow, held by the pretty girl. For this beast, as it happened, just three hundred francs were asked, and Buteau affected not to think that dear. He began to praise the cow, and then abruptly turned back to the other one.
"It's settled, then, that I take my money elsewhere?" he asked.
"Why, if it were only possible, but it isn't! You must nerve yourself a bit."
Then, leaning down and taking a full handful of udder, the woman added:
"See how plump and pretty!"
He did not assent, however; but said again:
"Three hundred francs."
"No, three hundred and fifty."
Negotiations seemed broken off. Buteau had taken Jean's arm, in definite token that he had let the matter drop. The women rejoined them, in a state of excitement, they being of opinion that the cow was worth the three hundred and fifty francs. Françoise, in particular, who was pleased with the animal, talked of giving that price. But Buteau grew vexed; why should one be swindled like that? And for nearly an hour he held out, amid the anxiety of his cousins, who trembled whenever a purchaser stopped in front of the animal. Neither did he cease to watch it out of the corner of his eye; but it was the right game to play; it was necessary one should hold out. Nobody would certainly be so ready as that to part with his money; they would soon see if any one were fool enough to pay more than three hundred francs. And, in point of fact, the money was not forthcoming, albeit the market was drawing to its close.
Some horses were now being tried along the road. One, all white, was showing his paces, urged on by the guttural shouts of a man holding the halter and running by his side; while Patoir, the chubby and florid veterinary, stood looking on beside the purchaser in a corner of the square, with both hands in his pockets, and giving advice aloud. The inns hummed busily with a constant stream of drinkers, going in and out, away and back again, amid endless discussions and bargainings. The bustle and tumult were now at their full height, and one could not hear one's-self speak. A calf, that had lost its mother, lowed incessantly. Some black griffons and large yellow water-spaniels ran howling away from among the crowd, with crushed paws. Occasional lulls would occur, in which nothing was audible save the croaking of a flock of ravens who were wheeling round the church steeple. Penetrating through the warm smell of the cattle there came a strong stench of burnt horn, a nuisance due to a neighbouring farriery, where some peasants were availing themselves of the opportunity to have their animals shod.
"Hi! Three hundred?" repeated the unwearied Buteau, as he drew near the peasant woman again.
"No. Three hundred and fifty."
As there was another purchaser standing by, also bargaining, Buteau seized the cow by her jaws and forced them open to look at her teeth. Then he let go of them with a grimace. At that moment the cow began to relieve herself, and the dung fell soft. He followed it with his eyes, and made a worse grimace than before. The purchaser, a tall thin fellow, was influenced, and went away.
"I'll have nothing more to do with her," said Buteau. "She's got curdled blood."
This time the woman committed the mistake of losing her temper, which was what he wanted. She abused him, and he retorted with a flood of filth. People gathered round and laughed. The husband still stood motionless behind the woman. At last he slightly nudged her, and she abruptly cried:
"Will you take her at three hundred and twenty francs?"
"No, three hundred."
He was going off once more, when she called him back in a choking voice.
"Well, then, you brute, take her! But, by God! if I had to go through it all again, I'd slap your face first!"
She was beside herself, and quivering with rage. He laughed noisily, added some gallant speeches, and offered to sleep with her for the balance.
Lise had immediately come up. She took the woman aside and paid her the three hundred francs behind a tree. Françoise had already got hold of the cow, but Jean had to push the creature behind, for she refused to budge. They had been trotting backwards and forwards for a couple of hours, Rose and Fanny having silently and untiringly awaited the end. Finally, on taking their departure, and searching for Buteau, who had vanished, they found him hail-fellow-well-met with the pig-dealer. He had just got his porker for twenty francs; and, in paying, he counted his money out first in his pocket, then produced the exact sum, and counted it again in his half-closed hand. It was quite a job to get the pig into the sack which he had brought under his blouse. The rotten canvas burst, and the paws of the animal came through, as well as its snout. In this condition Buteau shouldered his burden, and carried the beast off, kicking, grunting, and squealing with alarm.
"I say, Lise, how about those five francs I won?"
She gave them to him, for fun, not expecting that he would take them. But he did take them, and put them out of sight in no time. Then they all made their way slowly towards "The Jolly Ploughman."
The market was at an end. Money was gleaming in the sunlight and chinking on the tables of the wine-shops. At the last moment everything was hurried to a conclusion. In the corner of the Place Saint-Georges there only remained a few animals unsold. Little by little, the crowd had ebbed away towards the Rue Grande, where the vegetable and fruit-sellers were clearing the roadway and carrying off their empty baskets. In a similar way there was nothing left at the poultry market save straw and feathers. The carts were already starting off again. Vehicles were being harnessed in the inn-yards; horses' reins, knotted to the pavement-rings, were being untied. Along all the roads, on every side, wheels were rolling, and blue blouses were blown about by the wind as the vehicles jolted over the pavement.
Lengaigne went by in this fashion, trotting on his little black pony, having turned his journey to account by buying a scythe. Macqueron and his daughter Berthe were still lingering in the shops. As for La Frimat, she went back on foot, laden as when she started, for she was carrying back her basket full of horse-dung, which she had picked up on the road. Among the gilding at the chemist's in the Rue Grande, Palmyre had been waiting half-an-hour to have a draught made up for her brother, who had been ill for a week past—some vile drug it was, that took one franc out of the couple she had so laboriously earned. But what made the Mouche girls and their party hasten their sauntering steps was the sight of Hyacinthe, staggering along very drunk, and taking up all the street. They presumed that he had got another loan that day by mortgaging his last bit of land. He was chuckling to himself, and some five-franc pieces were jingling in his capacious pockets.
On arriving at "The Jolly Ploughman," Buteau said, simply and bluffly:
"So you're off? Look here, Lise, why not stop with your sister and have something to eat?"
She was surprised, and as she turned towards Jean, he added:
"Jean can stop too. I shall be very pleased if he will."
Rose and Fanny exchanged glances. The lad had certainly some idea in his head. Had he decided on marriage after going to the notary's to accept? The expression of his face still gave no clue. No matter! They ought not to hamper the course of things.
"Very good, then. You stay here and I'll go on with mother," said Fanny. "We are expected."
Françoise, who had never let go of the cow, now drily remarked: "I am going too."
She persisted in doing so. She always felt on thorns at the inn, she said, and she wanted to take her animal away at once. They had to give way, she made herself so disagreeable; and accordingly, as soon as the horse had been put to, the cow was tied behind the cart, and the three women got up.
Not till that moment did Rose, who expected a confession from her son, venture to ask him:
"You have no message for your father?"
"No, none," replied Buteau.
She looked him full in the face and pressed him: "There's no news, then?"
"If there is, you'll know it all in good time."
Fanny flicked the horse, which set off leisurely, while the cow behind, stretching out her neck, allowed herself to be dragged along. Lise was left between Buteau and Jean.
At six o'clock the three of them sat down at a table in a dining-room of the inn, communicating with the café. Buteau, without any one knowing whether he was standing treat or not, had gone into the kitchen and ordered an omelette and a rabbit. Meantime, Lise had urged Jean to have an explanation with him, so as to bring matters to an end, and save a journey. However, they had got through the omelette, and were eating the rabbit, without the young fellow, who was ill at ease, having as yet taken any steps. Neither did the other seem to have the thing at all on his mind. He ate heartily, laughed from ear to ear, and in a friendly way nudged his cousin and his companion with his knee under the table. Then they talked on more serious topics: of the new Rognes road; and although not a word was spoken about the five hundred francs' compensation, or the increased value of the land, these weighty considerations underlay all that was said. At last Buteau returned to his jests, and began clinking glasses; while into his grey eyes there visibly passed the idea of this piece of good business—this old flame he might marry, whose field, adjacent to his own, had almost doubled in value.
"Good Lord!" cried he, "aren't we to have any coffee?"
"Three coffees!" ordered Jean.
Another hour passed in sipping, and the decanter of brandy was exhausted without Buteau declaring himself. He advanced and retired, and spun matters out, just in the same way as he had haggled for the cow. The thing was as good as settled; but, all the same, a certain amount of consideration was necessary. At last he turned abruptly to Lise and said to her:
"Why haven't you brought the child?"
She began to laugh, understanding this time that the affair was clenched. Then she gave him a slap, feeling pleased and indulgent, and confined herself to replying:
"Isn't this Buteau a horrid fellow?"
That was all. He laughed too. The marriage was decided.
Jean, hitherto embarrassed, now seemed relieved, and became gay. At last he even spoke right out.
"You have done well, you know, to return; I was about to step into your shoes."
"Yes, so I was told. Oh, I wasn't uneasy; you would, no doubt, have given me warning!"
"Why, certainly! The more so as it's better it should be you, on account of the child. That's what we always said, didn't we, Lise?"
"Always. That's the simple truth!"
The faces of all three melted into tenderness. They fraternised; especially Jean, who was free from jealousy, and felt astonished at finding himself helping on this marriage. He called for some beer, Buteau having shouted that, good Lord! they'd have something more to drink. With their elbows on the table, seated on each side of Lise, they now chatted about the recent rains which had beaten down the corn.
In the adjacent room, used as a café, Hyacinthe, seated at the same table as an old peasant, who was drunk like himself, was kicking up an intolerable row. For that matter, nobody there could speak without shouting. There they sat, in blouses, drinking, smoking, and spitting amid the ruddy smoke of the lamps; and Hyacinthe's brazen, deafening voice was ever the loudest of all. He was playing "chouine," and a quarrel had just arisen anent the last trick between him and his companion, who stuck to his winnings with an air of calm obstinacy. He appeared, however, to be in the wrong. There was no settling it, and Hyacinthe, infuriated at last, yelled so loudly that the landlord interfered. Then he got up and went from table to table, with maudlin persistence, taking his hand with him to lay the point before the other customers. He bored everybody; and finally, beginning to shout again, he returned to the old man, who, with the imperturbability of injustice, bore the abuse like a stoic.
"Poltroon! Ne'er-do-weel! Just come outside, and see how I'll pitch into you!" shouted Hyacinthe.
Then he abruptly resumed his chair facing the other, and coolly said:
"I know a game. But you must bet. Will you?"
He had taken out a handful of fifteen or twenty five-franc pieces, and piled them up in front of him.
"That's the thing. You do the same."
The old man, feeling interested, took out his purse without a word, and set up an equal pile.
"Then I take one from your heap. Now look!"
He seized the coin, put it gravely on his tongue as if it had been a wafer, and swallowed it at a gulp.
"Now, it's your turn. Take one of mine. And the one who eats the most of the other's money, keeps it. That's the game!"
The old man, whose eyes were wide open with surprise, agreed to the suggestion, and with some difficulty he caused one coin to disappear. However, Hyacinthe, while crying out that there was no hurry, gulped down the crowns like so many plums. At the fifth one he swallowed, a rumour ran round the café, and a circle of people collected, petrified with admiration. What a throat the beggar must have, to stick money down his gizzard like that! The old man was swallowing his fourth coin, when he tumbled backwards, black in the face, choking and gurgling. For a moment they thought him dead. Hyacinthe had risen up, quite comfortable and wearing a bantering air. He, for his part, had ten of the coins in his stomach, so that there was a balance of thirty francs to his credit.
Buteau feeling anxious, and fearing he might be compromised if the old man did not recover, had left the table and given orders for the horses to be put to. As he stared vaguely at the walls, without saying a word about paying, although the invitation had come from him, Jean settled the bill. This capped Buteau's good spirits; and in the yard, where the two vehicles were waiting, he took his companion by the shoulders, saying:
"I expect you to come, you know. The wedding will take place in three weeks' time. I've been to the notary's and signed the deed; all the papers will be ready."
Then, helping Lise into his own cart: "Now then, up!" he added, "I'll see you back. I'll drive through Rognes, it won't be much farther."
Jean returned in his vehicle by himself. He considered this natural, and followed the others. Cloyes had relapsed into its death-like lethargy and was now asleep, lighted only by the yellow stars of the street lamps. Of the hubbub of the market nothing remained save the staggering, belated steps of some drunken peasant. The road stretched afar in deep darkness. Jean, however, did at last descry the other vehicle which was conveying the affianced pair. Better so, he thought; all was as it should be. And he whistled loudly, freshened up by the night air, and feeling free and cheery.