Lisa, however, leisurely made her appearance.
“Here is my brother Florent!” exclaimed Quenu.
Lisa addressed him as “Monsieur,” and gave him a kindly welcome. She scanned him quietly from head to foot, without evincing any disagreeable surprise. Merely a faint pout appeared for a moment on her lips. Then, standing by, she began to smile at her husband’s demonstrations of affection. Quenu, however, at last recovered his calmness, and noticing Florent’s fleshless, poverty-stricken appearance, exclaimed: “Ah, my poor fellow, you haven’t improved in your looks since you were over yonder. For my part, I’ve grown fat; but what would you have!”
He had indeed grown fat, too fat for his thirty years. He seemed to be bursting through his shirt and apron, through all the snowy-white linen in which he was swathed like a huge doll. With advancing years his clean-shaven face had become elongated, assuming a faint resemblance to the snout of one of those pigs amidst whose flesh his hands worked and lived the whole day through. Florent scarcely recognised him. He had now seated himself, and his glance turned from his brother to handsome Lisa and little Pauline. They were all brimful of health, squarely built, sleek, in prime condition; and in their turn they looked at Florent with the uneasy astonishment which corpulent people feel at the sight of a scraggy person. The very cat, whose skin was distended by fat, dilated its yellow eyes and scrutinised him with an air of distrust.
“You’ll wait till we have breakfast, won’t you?” asked Quenu. “We have it early, at ten o’clock.”
A penetrating odour of cookery pervaded the place; and Florent looked back upon the terrible night which he had just spent, his arrival amongst the vegetables, his agony in the midst of the markets, the endless avalanches of food from which he had just escaped. And then in a low tone and with a gentle smile he responded:
“No; I’m really very hungry, you see.”
Florent had just begun to study law in Paris when his mother died. She lived at Le Vigan, in the department of the Gard, and had taken for her second husband one Quenu, a native of Yvetot in Normandy, whom some sub-prefect had transplanted to the south and then forgotten there. He had remained in employment at the sub-prefecture, finding the country charming, the wine good, and the women very amiable. Three years after his marriage he had been carried off by a bad attack of indigestion, leaving as sole legacy to his wife a sturdy boy who resembled him. It was only with very great difficulty that the widow could pay the college fees of Florent, her elder son, the issue of her first marriage. He was a very gentle youth, devoted to his studies, and constantly won the chief prizes at school. It was upon him that his mother lavished all her affection and based all her hopes. Perhaps, in bestowing so much love