Madame makes her purchases judiciously—time is not a valuable commodity in Versailles—and finishes, when the huge black basket is getting heavy even for the strong arms of the squat little maid, by buying a mess of cooked spinach from the pretty girl whose red hood makes a happy spot of colour among the surrounding greenery, and a measure of onions from the profound-looking sage who garners a winter livelihood from the summer produce of his fields.
[Illustration: A Foraging Party]
Relations with uncooked food are, in Versailles, distinguished by an unwonted intimacy. No one, however dignified his station or appearance, is ashamed of purchasing the materials for his dinner in the open market, or of carrying them home exposed to the view of the world through the transpicuous meshes of a string bag. The portly gentleman with the fur coat and waxed moustaches, who looks a general at least, and is probably a tram-car conductor, bears his bunch of turnips with an air that dignifies the office, just as the young sub-lieutenant in the light blue cloak and red cap and trousers carries his mother’s apples and lettuces without a thought of shame. And it is easy to guess the nature of the dejeuner of this simple soldat from the long loaf, the bottle of vin ordinaire, and the onions that form the contents of his net. In the street it was a common occurrence to encounter some non-commissioned officer who, entrusted with the catering for his mess, did his marketing accompanied by two underlings, who bore between them the great open basket destined to hold his purchases.
[Illustration: A Thriving Merchant]
A picturesque appearance among the hucksters of the market square is the boite de carton seller. Blue-bloused, with his stock of lavender or brown bandboxes strapped in a cardboard Tower of Pisa on his back, he parades along, his wares finding ready sale; for his visits are infrequent, and if one does not purchase at the moment, as does Madame, the opportunity is gone.
The spirit of camaraderie is strong amongst the good folks of the market. One morning the Artist had paused a moment to make a rough sketch of a plump, affable man who, shadowed by the green cotton awning of his stall, was selling segments of round flat cheeses of goat’s milk; vile-smelling compounds that, judged from their outer coating of withered leaves, straw, and dirt, would appear to have been made in a stable and dried on a rubbish heap. The subject of the jotting, busy with his customers, was all unconscious; but an old crone who sat, her feet resting on a tiny charcoal stove, amidst a circle of decadent greens, detecting the Artist’s action, became excited, and after eyeing him uneasily for a moment, confided her suspicions as to his ulterior motive to a round-faced young countryman who retailed flowers close by. He, recognising us as customers—even then we were laden with his violets and mimosa—merely