The bustle of the market is soon ended. By ten o’clock the piles of vegetables are sensibly diminished. By half-past ten the white-capped maid-servants have carried the heavy baskets home, and are busy preparing lunch. At eleven o’clock the sharp boy whose stock-in-trade consisted of three trays of snails stuffed a la Bourgogne has sold all the large ones at 45 centimes a dozen, all the small at 25, and quite two-thirds of the medium-sized at 35 centimes.
The clock points to eleven. The sun is high now. The vendors awaken to the consciousness of hunger, and Madame of the pommes frites stall, whose assistant dexterously cuts the peeled tubers into strips, is fully occupied in draining the crisp golden shreds from the boiling fat and handing them over, well sprinkled with salt and pepper, to avid customers, who devour them smoking hot, direct from their paper cornucopias.
Long before the first gloom of the early mid-winter dusk, all has been cleared away. The rickety stalls have been demolished; the unsold remainder of the goods disposed of; the worthy country folks, their pockets heavy with sous, are well on their journey homewards, and only a litter of straw, of cabbage leaves and leek tops remains as evidence of the lively market of the morning.
[Illustration: Chestnuts in the Avenue]
OUR ARBRE DE NOEL
We bought it on the Sunday morning from old Grand’mere Gomard in the Avenue de St. Cloud.
It was not a noble specimen of a Christmas-tree. Looked at with cold, unimaginative eyes, it might have been considered lopsided; undersized it undoubtedly was. Yet a pathetic familiarity in the desolate aspect of the little tree aroused our sympathy as no rare horticultural trophy ever could.
Some Christmas fairy must have whispered to Grand’mere to grub up the tiny tree and to include it in the stock she was taking into Versailles on the market morning. For there it was, its roots stuck securely into a big pot, looking like some forlorn forest bantling among the garden plants.
[Illustration: The Tree Vendor]
Grand’mere Gomard had established herself in a cosy nook at the foot of one of the great leafless trees of the Avenue. Straw hurdles were cunningly arranged to form three sides of a square, in whose midst she was seated on a rush-bottomed chair, like a queen on a humble throne. Her head was bound by a gaily striped kerchief, and her feet rested snugly on a charcoal stove. Her merchandise, which consisted of half a dozen pots of pink and white primulas, a few spotted or crimson cyclamen, sundry lettuce and cauliflower plants, and some roots of pansies and daisies, was grouped around her.