Love in the Flea Market


‘MARCEL! la soupel!' announced a deep female voice from the ramshackle kitchen of the awful Madame La Frite. The kitchen, which was made of piano boxes and old tin, was next the scrubby little vegetable gardens kept by crippled soldiers over on the edge of what Paris calls the Flea Market. The Marché aux Puces is a marvelous ragpickers’ fair just outside the Porte de Clignancourt, where the junk dealers and all the strange scavenger creatures of Paris gather on Sunday morning to sell their week’s treasure-trove from the ash cans and alleys. The La Frites — Monsieur and Madame — were the aristocrats of the confraternity. Their shack had flowers planted around it and white shells to mark the path, and an arbor made of old laths covered with vines. In front, in neatly assorted piles, was their stock in trade. In the midst of a heap of battered cups and dead coffee pots was a rubber hotwater bag, a green-glass pickle dish full of side combs, and a fly-specked chromo of Saint Cecilia with the bottomless cherubs. A vast mountain of ancient mattresses, grimy and smelly, was crowned with a round tin bathtub on which was jauntily perched a stuffed duck that had lost his tail feathers.

At one side of the great La Frite collection was the stock of an old chap who made a specialty of ancient hardware. He had the tight features of one who reaps where he hath not strowed, and sat gloating over his meticulously arrayed assortment of rusty bolts, pieces of decayed bicycles, files of all degrees of asperity, and hundreds of old clock-wheels, a few of them still assembled and able to tick feebly, like expiring vivisected creatures.

The other neighbor of the Maison La Frite was the Widow Cornloup, the arbitress of elegancies at the Marché aux Puces. She sat grotesquely prim at her table, in a bright green hat and a sticky-looking fur collar, reading a newspaper with the aid of a lorgnette, which she held so as to display her clawlike fingers adorned with four cheap rings. Behind her was a sign which announced her as ‘Honorary Member of the Association of Ragpickers of the Seine.’ She was a connoisseur of china turtle-doves, German helmets, and shiny crucifixes made out of cartridges.

Madame La Frite impatiently bawled again, ‘Marcel! la soupe!' and was about to add epithets relative to character, when she spied two possible customers eyeing appraisingly a sad old iron bed that had known the sorrows of life. The customers were a round-headed little lodging-house keeper, with a dyed black beard that looked as though it were pasted on, and his superior officer — a great beetling crag of a woman who frowned her way through the world. Madame La Frite girded up her ample loins and went to the fray. She started at thirtyfive francs and stuck to her guns for ten minutes. The beetling crag pointed out every defect from springs to casters while the round head wagged support.

‘Fifteen francs would be robbery for such a wreck!’

‘Wreck!’ bellowed Madame La Frite, ‘do you think you are on the Boulevard Haussmann? The very best piece of furniture for the money at the Puces! Bou Diou! Does madame think I will give it away?’

Soon, as the fight waxed hotter, the contestants dropped ‘monsieur’ and ‘madame,’ and the women roared ‘vache!’ and ‘sale loup!' into each others’ faces with gutteral acrimony. The round head feebly plucked his wife’s sleeve in an effort to preserve the decencies and was soundly slapped for interfering. Then, in the nick, came Monsieur La Frite to pour oil on the waters. He put his visored cap at an angle and spat through his broken teeth. He joined the beetling crag in calling his wife a cow, but gently insisted that the bed was an admirable example for its years, and given away at twenty-five francs. Pas cher, ma foi! ‘Monsieur’ and ‘Madame’ were resumed as titles of address, and the bargaining went on.

Monsieur La Frite to convince ‘Madame’ of the quality of the bed suggested that she try it, and so the beetling crag rolled her great frame on the shrieking springs. And while she bounced up and down with set unconvinced face. Widow Cornloup stood by and surveyed her through her lorgnette. This effrontery almost reopened hostilities, but the round head offered twenty francs and Monsieur La Frite threw up his hands with ‘Camarade!' and so the bargain was struck.

The bed was taken apart and lugged off by the customers, while Madame La Frite lighted a cigarette, and, arms akimbo on her monstrous hips, gave vent to untranslatable content. Then she remembered that dinner was ready and for the third time her powerful contralto echoed over the ash-can desolation of the Puces, —

‘Oh Marcel! la soupe! Bou Diou!'


And at last Marcel appeared. He was a good-looking little fellow of twenty with sharp nose that was helpful at a back-alley bargain, and smiling eyes that could always sell his stock to the Sunday customers at the Puces. Marcel’s other name was Corrozet. This could not be called his family name, since he did not have any family that he knew about, but he had always been called Corrozet. He was a junk dealer de luxe who thought of himself as an antiquaire, and took pride in the superiority of his taste in his trade. And nowadays the line between secondhand junk and ‘antiques’ is not clearly defined. In his quaint world of the Flea Market, Marcel was known as rather a dandy in dress. Though he felt considerably above his friends the old-clothes sellers, he never lost a good chance, as he went his rounds, of adding to his own wardrobe. This morning he was in his Sunday best, the chief glory of which was a slightly soiled but still rich waistcoat, and patent leather shoes with buttons. Both were a little uncomfortable in fit, but on Sundays comfort must be sacrificed to elegance.

As he sat down in the lath arbor of the La Frites to eat his fried fish and drink his wine with them and the Widow Cornloup, the other boarder, he gayly told of his last sale.

‘You know the old mannikin dressform I had? Ten years old it was, with a wasp waist, and the sawdust stuffing was half leaked out. I sold it to a dame, ma foi, she was a funny one! She wanted it because she remembered the day when her waist was like that! But she was tight with her money. Finally I gave it to her for eight francs and to make the bargain I threw in a vase-de-nuit decorated with big pink roses. And now she goes home happy with the dress-form under one arm and the vase under the other!’

And then Marcel told them some more exciting news. He had suddenly and utterly fallen in love. At this announcement Monsieur La Frite squinted his eyes and sputtered merry sarcasms; but the Widow Cornloup and Madame were sympathetic and eager for the facts.

‘I was getting into the train in the Metro,’ he began. ‘It is enormously crowded. I am pushed and squeezed until I cannot breathe. A girl screams that her baskets of flowers will be crushed. Ma foi, it is terrible, for she is a poor girl taking flowers to the market. I feel I must help her. Oh, how beautiful she is! I seize the baskets and hold them over my head and together we push into the train. I cannot put the baskets down for we are so tightly squeezed. So I hold them always over my head. It is drôle, is it not, but what would you? And it is nice to be so close to a beautiful girl. I am exhausted with holding the baskets but we come at last to the Cité, where she gets out. I am forced to get out too, for the crush is so great, and so I ask if I may carry her baskets to the Flower Market. She is very gentille and I think she begins to like me a little, perhaps. She is taller than I am, a superb girl. Ah, if I could only belong to her!’

He put his hand on his heart like an opera singer and blew a kiss into the air with a grace that a junkman would have only in France.

‘She comes from down by the Porte de Versailles. Her father lives in the dry moat and raises flowers, and she sells them on the Quai aux Fleurs.

This afternoon she will try to get away and meet me here and we shall walk together. It is wonderful, n’est-ce pas?’

Madame La Frite’s battered and bewhiskered face grinned appreciation and she showed her one great front tooth in a smile; but the Widow Cornloup was so disturbed that she choked on a fishbone and required first aid in the way of resounding thumps from Monsieur La Frite’s hairy fists. When she recovered she opined that an acquaintance begun so casually in the Metro could come to no good and advised Marcel to drop the forward hussy. But Marcel quite failed to see her point, and when he had finished his bottle of wine, strolled off through the Flea Market, a cigarette sticking to his lower lip, to his rendezvous with the Juno of the Metro.


Marcel soon found his divinity sitting among a rubbishy heap of secondhand underwear and overalls, which had been entrusted to a pale-faced little girl. Denise Troudunez, for that was the name of the Juno of the Metro, was a tall pleasing-looking girl, with peasant complexion and peasant hands, and a quiet manner in her black dress, which suggested common sense — too much common sense to attract most boys. Her instinct for bargaining, which she usually practised in the Flower Market, to-day, being a holiday for her, she was practising by selling old socks for the pale-faced little girl while she waited for Marcel to turn up.

‘Oui, mon petit bleu,’ she was saying to a little blue uniformed soldier, ‘ten sous the pair and the holes thrown in!’

Marcel greeted his Denise with, ‘ Viens, ma poule!’ She seemed pleased at being called his ‘chicken,’and they walked through the market holding each other by the hand. As Denise was some twenty centimetres taller than Marcel, he had to look up as they talked, and her somewhat protecting manner gave him a feeling that he belonged to her just as much as did the precious little black and white dog she held by a string in the other hand. This was a new feeling to Marcel, this sense of belonging, and he liked it. He decided that this feeling must go on forever, and so he began to woo Denise. As they strolled through the market among the strange piles of junk and trash, he told her of his adventures of the week, of his thrifty bargainings and thriftier sellings, and hinted at successes with serving maids and even implied that ladies of the house sometimes smiled a litlle. Now, he did not know it, but his vanity was making a little too much of this theme to please the common-sense Denise.

They stopped before the shack of a tintype man with sleek black hair and volubly gesticulating fingers.

‘Viens, Marcel, you and your chicken and the dog, all together, eh? And the mademoiselle will sit on the lion and we shall have the palm-tree background. It will be a trip to the colonies. Very chic, n ‘est-ce pas?’ And so Denise sat stiffly on the gilt plaster lion — a battered old beast but still with a kindly smile — and Marcel stood and leaned one elbow nonchalantly on the lion’s head and held the dog by the string. And the black palms on a white sheet gave a most exotic atmosphere — very ‘chic,’ indeed, and only two francs for a friend.

They joined the crowd on the outer avenue, and sauntered by the knickknack stalls, and lost the dog, and found him again, and ate sticky taffy called bon-bons contre le rhume, and all the time Marcel told of the romance of the junkman’s life, with adventure always waiting around the corner and dreams of wealth found in back alleys.

They went into a little smelly restaurant and ate steamed mussels and scooped up the juice with the shells and smiled and guzzled in mutual contentment. For, being French, they shared the almost cosmic joy of their nation in its goodly food. And a boy with a guitar came and sang jolly songs and sold copies of them to the musseleaters and the wine-drinkers, who wiped their bandit-like moustaches with the backs of their hands and joined in the chorus. There was one song, about ‘Love in the springtime, love in the summer, and love in the autumn too,’ that Marcel bought and promised to play on his accordion when he had learned it. And as he sang the chorus he lingered over that lovely word ‘l’amour’ and let it gurgle all around the back of his throat.

When they came to the stall of a loud-voiced seller of gaudy jewelry, Marcel thought the time had come to seal their friendship with a gift, and accept each other as in a vague way betrothed. The noisy seller held up glittering temptations one after another before the dazzled crowd and kept up a running stream of talk. ‘Twenty francs for necklaces! Real gold they are, and real pearls. Look at them! Cost forty francs. I swear it! I should like to have some honest workman profit by this for his little daughter. Real pearls at twenty francs! And these earrings! I have only one other pair like them and I am keeping them for my mistress. And at eighteen francs!'

But Denise was not sure about the betrothal yet. She had stolen away this afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of a young man’s company all alone, but she was a little frightened at what she had clone. She intimated that the life of a junkman — even of an antiquaire — was too romantic, she feared. There were too many women in it, all those serving maids and Iadies-of-the-house in the back courtyards. She herself was altogether sérieuse. Marcel must give her time to think about it. He might come to see her next Sunday at the Flower Market and they would talk. And, of course, she must ask her mother. The Troudunez were a serious family. Marcel must be looked over.


Marcel spent an unhappy week. Monsieur La Frite and the hardware man and the tin-type-taker and others of the Association of the Ragpickers of the Seine made remarks about his ‘poule,’ who towered twenty centimetres above him and held him by the hand. These remarks in the wonderful argot of the submerged tenth cannot be translated, and if they could, they could not be printed. But in spite of all this, Marcel still hugged the desire to belong to Juno, to enjoy the comfort of that abundant bosom, as well as the very real advantage of her common sense and prudence.

Next Sunday afternoon Marcel left his stock as soon as his thrifty soul would let him, and, arrayed in his elegant waistcoat and his painful patent leathers, ‘fell into the Metro.’ He emerged at the little square behind the Hôtel Dieu, at the end of the Quai aux Fleurs, where the Bird and Flower Market spreads itself on Sundays. This was another world from the sordid grotesqueness of the Flea Market. Here under the tentlike shelter of the blossoming plane trees that filled the autumn air with honey, the flowersellers laid out their gorgeous profusion of purple asters, scarlet geraniums, and golden marigolds in hundreds of little pots, against backgrounds of blooming magnolias and dark evergreens.

And the bird-sellers had piled up their little cages full of restless flashes of color that chirped and twittered and shrieked in a discordant orchestra. There were fluttering Chinese swallows, fascinating coral beaks from Senegal, glittering metallic thrushes from northern Africa, Japanese nightingales (rois des siffleurs), and gorgeous raucous parrots and macaws from heathen places.

And huddled among bags of sunflower seeds and festoons of corncobs, and cuttle bones, and spongy things, old women proprietors sat huddled over their knitting, and families were forever lunching on bread and sausages and wine. There were fluffy brown rabbits and little white rats curled up asleep, and kittens for sale by the basketful, and everywhere one read the invitation not to miss the great exhibition of the Société Serinophile, three weeks off. Funny French children with their dressed-up Sunday parents straggled about in the warm sunshine and color. A nun came by with a troop of orphans and a haggard loafer from the canal boats crossed himself as she passed. Somewhere off behind stacks of poles and pushcarts, an ass brayed.

Marcel found his Denise sitting in an arbor of brown autumn leaves and red-berried holly and orange-colored gourds, with chrysanthemums, dahlias, and asters, white, purple, and crimson, banked all around in earthen vases. And there were stalks of vivid red peppers, and wonderful blue thistles for lasting bouquets, and piles of red beech-leaves sold by the dozen. Denise’s mother, a white-haired beldame in a peasant cap, sat stroking a tame rook with a string on its leg, and talked to it jocularly. Denise had just sold a huge bouquet to a gentleman with gloves, top hat, and stick, and she gave him a charming smile as he raised his hat in leaving. Marcel noted this and reflected that though the junkman may flirt with the serving maids in the courtyards, there are also fine gentlemen for flower girls to smile at. He would make use of this observation.

Denise’s greeting was cordial but yet restrained, as became a girl of a family so ‘séricuse’ as that of the Troudunez. And Marcel was presented to the beldame mother who stopped talking to the tame rook and awkwardly shook hands with him. Being presented as a prospective son-in-law is always a difficult moment in any class of society, but it is especially so when the girl’s family is a shade superior to your own. Fortunately, Marcel had brought along his accordion and was able to warm the chill of the atmosphere which a prolonged and helpless conversation on weather may bring about. He played ‘Love in the springtime, love in the summer, love in the autumn too,’ with such feeling that Denise felt there was no longer any doubt of the seriousness of his intentions. And then he won over the beldame mother by playing Mon ami Pierrot, Au claire de la lune, and the old ballad about the Bon roi Dagobert. The ideal son-in-law for Madame Troudunez would have been a substantial grocer or a horse butcher, at least; but since there were no such candidates in sight, Marcel, the accordion-playing junkman, was really not so bad. Monsieur Troudunez must, of course, have the final word, and he had not arrived yet.

While waiting for the old man the two nervous lovers strolled down the Quai aux Fleurs, past all the flower stands, and sat on the parapet and watched the two arms of the Seine flow around the Isle St.-Louis, and talked about everything but what they most wanted to say, just as Abélard and Héloïse did, in exactly the same spot on the Quai aux Fleurs (at No. 11), eight hundred years before.

When Monsieur Troudunez arrived Denise disappeared, and the junkman nervously lighted a cigarette and the old man his pipe, and both sat on the stone parapet kicking their heels. After an embarrassing silence old Troudunez spat judicially and began:

‘Eh b’an, Monsieur Corrozet, it has come so sudden, comprenez? so sudden! Ma foi, ‘t was only last night the girl told me and the mother about it. Getting married is a serious affair, comprenez? Ah oui, a serious affair. And then our family has been on the quai here for three generations, comprenez? Well known we are. Yes, my grandfather used to grow flowers down in Bourg-la-Reine, back in Louis Philippe’s time. My father lost the farm in the hard days, and now I am only a squatter in the moat, but we have the Troudunez name and I’ve saved up a thousand francs dot that goes with the girl, comprenez? Now she tells me you don’t know much about your family, in fact, as one may say, you don’t seem to have any, comprenez? Now, there’s the trouble. And I always wanted the man who gets that dot of a thousand francs to have a settled business. Junk dealing is n’t — I may say, settled, comprenez? Voila! Another trouble.’

Poor Marcel had expected this. He argued long about his prospects, and dwelt upon the word antiquaire, but he had to admit that he could n’t boast three generations of respectability. The woman who brought him up had said his name was Corrozet when she sent him to the public school down by the Tower of Jean-le-Bon, but that was all he knew, and he had n’t seen the woman in ten years.

When the interview was over they walked back to the flower stall, and Marcel once more played ‘Love in the autumn ‘ to Denise. Then with his accordion under his arm he said good-bye to the Flower Market with its color and its honey-blossoming trees, and sadly took the Metro back to the Flea Market with its smells of burned rags and rubber — as bitter as the sadness in his heart.


Very early next morning Marcel told his trouble to the La Frites and the Widow Cornloup, as they all sat in the piano-box kitchen guzzling their usual breakfast of clamorous onion soup.

‘Bou Diou!’ growled Madame La Frite between gulps of soup. ‘It takes a peasant who lives in a ditch to be proud of his sacré family. As if our Marcel were not too good for that bean pole!’ Marcel did not like the reference to his Juno-like girl, but he appreciated the sympathy. Then Madame La Frite had a great inspiration. ‘If all Marcel needs is a father and mother, why could n’t we adopt him, hein? I should make a handsome mother-in-law, n ‘est-ce pas ? ‘ And she showed her one yellow tooth as she cackled.

Monsieur La Frite ruined this amiable plan by remarking that marriage of the parents was necessary for an adoption to be legal. And the La Frites, though for many years they had lived as stormy a life together as any married pair, had omitted the formality of a wedding ceremony. The Widow Cornloup expressed her willingness to become an adopted mother to Marcel, but had to admit that she and the late M. Cornloup (who was now doing a fifteen-year jail sentence) had been equally careless.

There seemed to be no hope for Marcel in acquiring family by adoption. Besides, his ignoble occupation would still remain as a bar to his social aspirations. He wanted to paint out the words Egalité and Fraternité, that were so conspicuously plastered over every important building in Paris.

In Marcel’s world nobody thought very much about family because nobody had any that he knew about. The aristocrats were the junk-dealers and old-clothes men who bought their stock, and they looked down with great contempt on the pathetic display of broken china and rusty tinware of the poor wretches who hunted through ash cans. But a grandfather back in Louis Philippe’s time could not mean much in the Flea Market. Marcel dimly recalled a tawdry creature whom he had called ‘aunt,’ who was chiefly interested in getting him out of the way, especially when there were gentlemen visiting; but he had no recollection of any mention having been made of a grandfather, or father either, for that matter. He himself had been one of the aristocrats at the Puces since the day when, at the age of sixteen, he had bought an old piece of carpet for ten francs and sold it for thirty. How he had got the first ten francs he did not like to remember. But since then he had been respected as the clever boy who often had fifty francs to the good to begin his week’s buying.

But how to acquire a grandfather? That was his problem now. And if he could n’t find one, how was he to live without the beautiful Juno of the Flower Market? He got out his accordion and played Le rêve passe with so much feeling and such a wheezing and groaning of the old instrument that Widow Cornloup was deeply touched and went off sniffling to take stock of her china turtle-doves and German helmets.

Then Marcel started across town with his pushcart to make his regular round through the quarter of the rue St.-Denis. A friend of his, an oldclothes man, kept pace with him, as he often did, chatting on their way. And they always kept one eye on the upper stories of the old houses with their twisted balustrades, and another on the swarming shopkeeping of the busy old street. Every two minutes the oldclothes man sang in a high operatic tenor, with a romantic flourish in the grand style: —

‘Avez vous des habits à vendre?,

And then Marcel’s rich baritone, in a tune that might have proclaimed the entrance of a knight-errant, rang out with: —

‘Voici le brocanteur! Voici le brocanteur!’

Again the old-clothes man’s cry soared to the ridiculously high chimney-tops, and Marcel’s minor tune, echoing the hollowness of life, rolled through the cellars with: —

J’achète les vieux meubles! J’achète les vieux meubles!

The old-clothes man had excellent luck this morning, and soon filled his cart with old shoes, old trousers, and an ancient top hat that any one of the fiacre drivers, who still linger on in Paris, would be glad to buy.

But Marcel was not doing very well. He missed a great many good chances because he was thinking regretfully of Juno’s matronly bosom, and for whole streets he hummed over Le rêve passe, instead of giving the well-known call of his trade. By the time the oldclothes man turned to go back with a great heap of precious rags, Marcel had bought only a bouquet of pale wax-flowers under a bell glass, and had refused a chance to acquire a slightly defective baby-carriage for almost nothing. There was no more joy in his trade; there seemed to be no more chance of luck lying just around the corner.

Meanwhile the La Frites, monsieur and madame, — but chiefly madame, — were considering Marcel’s problem.

‘It’s that Flower Market crowd turning up their noses at the Flea Market. Bou Diou! As if our honest buying and selling was n’t as respectable as digging in the dirt! Call a meeting of the Association and let us see whether they will let one of us be snubbed by the sacré Flower Market.’

And so Monsieur La Frite, always obedient to his awful spouse, told the members of the Association of the Ragpickers of the Seine, as they came back in the evening one by one, that he as president would call a meeting right away. Beside the shack of the La Frites sat a mighty armchair, its red plush a little raw and mangy, and its entrails none too sound, but its vast size giving it a distinction even in its decadence. It was chiefly by virtue of possessing this mighty throne that Monsieur La Frite had been raised to the bad eminence of presidential glory.

The infernal peers, lean, scraggy, and bewhiskered knights of the pushcart assembled one by one. Monsieur La Frite with great dignity took his place, and beside him sat his terrible consort, balancing her amorphous bulk on a bathroom stool. Women could not be regular members of the Société des Chiffoniers de la Seine, but, as elsewhere in French life, they had their say. And Madame La Frite, sitting in the siège perilous, rolling a cigarette, ruled the assembly as effectively as if she had twenty votes.

The presidential address opened with a reminder that the La Frite administration had safely guided the association in its larger policies for three years, and then expressed the hope that in the present crisis it might count on the support of all loyal adherents. It was indeed a crisis, this present issue. The refusal of old Troudunez to accept their own Marcel as a son-in-law was plainly a slap at the dignity and respectability of the Chiffoniers de la Seine. Should the Société floricole and the Société serinophile be permitted to show them such an affront and nothing be done? Such snobbishness threatened the very foundations of the Republic. The Floricoles and the Serinophiles must be taught a lesson.

The address from the throne was followed by many a guttural sacré bleu and much spitting through the teeth, and here and there a grimy fist threatened vengeance. Then the grumpy hardware man stopped sorting the clock-wheels with which his pockets were full and took the floor. His counsel was a dire vengeance on the snobs. On the days of the Bird and Flower Market every owner of a pushcart in the Puces was to fill it up with dirty mattresses, and evil and odorous gunnysacks, and make a point of parading through the market square to the disgust of all fastidious flowerbuyers and neat, bourgeois bird-lovers. This would teach the Floricoles to turn up their noses at the honest though unlovely Chiffoniers!

The hardware man sat down and gruff guffaws came from the ragged peers. A man who sold secondhand underwear and socks, a dirty creature with red, piggish eyes, rose to approve the idea of vengeance, and added the suggestion that one or two rickety handcarts might be loaded with spoiled cabbages from the cellars of the markets and be made to break down accidentally in the Flower Market square.

At this point President La Frite and his consort engaged in a very close-up argument together as they sat on their respective thrones. And, of course, la présidente won. And Monsieur again addressed the peers. Such a vengeance would be sweet, he admitted, but it was not worthy so serious an organization as the Chiffoniers. Besides, this course would only intensify the feeling of the snobbish Floricoles without accomplishing the desired end, the marriage of Marcel and his aristocratic chicken. Furthermore there were the sacré police to be reckoned with. At the mention of the police there were howls of rage and mutterings of ‘Mort aux vaches!’ But Madame La Frite scored a point. Alors, que faire?

Then the Widow Cornloup, grandly surveying the noisy crowd through her lorgnette, asked permission to speak, since she was an honorary member of the Association. What the Chiffoniers needed, she said, was a stall somewhere in the centre of town where their choicer antiques might be sold to advantage. At present the dealers came every week and carried off old copper jugs for a couple of francs and sold them for twenty. Why should the association not take a section or two of the boxes on the left bank of the Seine, where the booksellers were, and put Marcel in charge of it. This would be a very profitable thing for them all, and Marcel would have the full status of an antiquary with a neat sign over his section of stalls. And old Troudunez would then accept him as a man with a settled and respectable profession. And then the Widow Cornloup added that she hoped that when the old man came to think of Marcel as a desirable son-in-law, that Marcel would turn up his nose at the bean-pole daughter — as she richly deserved for belonging to a family of snobs, parbleu!


The practical advantage of the Widow Cornloup’s scheme strongly appealed to the Association, and contributions for the first month’s rent of the stalls on the quai were at once levied. When Marcel came back to the Puces, gloomy with his poor day’s bargains and his disappointed heart, the Chiffoniers had already begun to ransack their stock for what their imaginations considered the nearest approach to real antiques. And Madame La Frite, puffing her cigarette, fists doubled on her great hips, announced the good news.

‘Bou Diou, Marcel, now you can marry the whole sacré Flower Market if you want!’

In a few days Marcel was established on the Quai St.-Michel with three sections of boxes full of old junk — battered copper jugs, pieces of crystal chandeliers, a plate full of old coins, some German helmets (a loan exhibit from the Collection Cornloup), a dirty fan of about 1870, which Marcel labeled as having belonged to la Pompadour, a heap of odd calf-skin volumes of eighteenth-century divinity, advertised as good bedtime reading for the guest-room, and a straggling array of torn prints and old-fashioned plates tacked to the backs of the open boxlids. And along the front was painted in none too even letters: MARCEL CorROZET, ANTIQUAIRE DE LA SOCIÉTÉ

DES CHIFFONIERS DE LA SEINE. And every afternoon came members of the fraternity to admire the sign and smoke cigarettes with Marcel as he sat on a little stool under the trees that shade the quai. And sometimes Denise slipped over from the Flower Market and rearranged the antiquities which the Sunday crowds handled a hundred times, while Marcel’s accordion yearned lovingly. Old Troudunez himself came by once and watched Marcel get forty francs from an American for a Mexican gourd bottle that had cost three-francs-fifty. During the mornings, when there was no business, Marcel continued to push his cart through the rue St.-Antoine singing, —

‘Avez-vous des vieux meubles a vendre?

while he meditated vaguely upon grandfathers. Old Troudunez seemed well disposed toward him now, but the question of family was still an obstacle.

One day toward the end of the week a boy brought an armful of old books to the stalls on the quai. Marcel did not go in much for books, but he took them when they came along and, to avoid any discussion of literary values, he paid for them by the pound. They seemed to be the usual shabby odd volumes that somebody may be willing to pick up, but one wonders why. The boy went off, glad to get a couple of francs, and Marcel thumbed over the old things in a hazy wonder at the mystery of the world of books.

Finally he glanced at one little tome in shriveled yellow parchment, and read the title: Les Antiquités, Chroniques, et Singularités de Paris, PAR GILLES CORROZET, 1561. This was the first time Marcel had ever seen his name in print, or even heard of anyone with the name.

‘Mon dieu! Qu’est-ce que c’ est! My own name!’ and he spelled it out loud: ‘C-o-r-r-o-z-e-t, there it is! Who can say now I have no family? I always felt it — that I was somebody. And 1561, that is a long time ago, before the time of Louis Philippe, hein? Here is proof now for old Troudunez. What can he say to my family when he sees the name in print? In print. Mon dieu! think of that!’

To think that he, Marcel, belonged to a family that had written books in the old times. Yes, indeed, life was strange! Marcel locked up his stalls and went down the quai to a bookseller who seemed to know more than most of the bouquinistes who dream their time away under the trees. He was a withered old chap with cross-eyed glasses that pinched his nose up as though he were always smelling a bad smell. He pinched the glasses on tighter and looked over the volume.

‘Ah, this is interesting. I ‘ll give six francs for it.’

‘Pardon, monsieur, it is not for sale. It was written by an ancestor of mine. See!’ and again Marcel spelled out his own name.

The dealer smiled contemptuously, but did not dispute the discovery.

‘Ah yes! that is different. We shall have to give you twenty-five francs, since it is an heirloom, hein?’

But still Marcel would not part with his find. And the dealer thumbed the book over and read the list of quaint streets of Paris as they stood in the sixteenth century, and he chuckled over some of the vulgar old names that one does not dare write down. When he came to the back cover he exclaimed, —

‘Sapristi! Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça! With the map all complete! And only two copies of it known! I will make you rich if you let me sell this. It is very valuable, the oldest map of Paris! Perhaps I’ll get a thousand francs.’

Marcel’s head swam. To find a family and a fortune both at the same time was too much. He grabbed the startled bookseller in his arms and kissed him on both cheeks. Marcel asked the old fellow’s opinion as to the correctness of his genealogical claim, and the bookseller felt bound to admit that many pedigrees in the world rested on slighter evidence.


That night Marcel buttoned on the grand waistcoat and the painful patent leathers, and with his priceless evidence of aristocracy in his pocket and his accordion under his arm started off to present himself a second time as a suitor for the hand of Denise.

He arrived at the Quai aux Fleurs in the evening just as the Troudunez family were getting their stock ready for the next day’s market. He came with his book and his accordion and his splendid waistcoat and shoes. He was greeted very cordially by old Troudunez, and the beldame mother stopped muttering things to the tame rook and wiped off a chair with her apron for him to sit in. Denise gave him a pink rose which he stuck jauntily over one ear. He announced his great find with an attempt to be very man-of-theworld about it.

‘A little book I just bought,’ he said, pulling the volume out of his pocket, ‘ written by my a — a — great ancestor: Gilles Corrozet. My friend the bouquiniste says it ‘s quite a rarity.’

But Marcel could n’t keep up his casual manner long. ‘The old man will sell it for a thousand francs, and then we can get married, hein, Denise?’ he cried jumping on a box so that he could throw his arms around the neck of the embarrassed Juno-like creature.

The old book and the map were reverently examined with many a Mon dieu! and Sapristi!

‘A thousand francs!’ cried the old man; ‘more than the price of a donkey. Nom d’une pipe!' And then a vague skepticism rose in his mind.

‘But how do you know it was written by an ancestor, comprenez?'

‘Eh b’an,’ said Marcel, taking the rose from behind his ear and chewing the stem meditatively, ‘the name is the same as the one painted over my boxes on the quai, is n’t it? Nobody ever heard of any other Corrozet family, n’est-ce pas? Did your grandfather write any books back in Louis Philippe’s time?’

Old Troudunez admitted that he had never seen his name in print. And the beldame mother added that grandfather Troudunez could n’t write his own name. And Denise pointed out that the family was not even listed in the directory. The old man did not like the turn the discussion was taking and went back to exclaiming on the value of the old book.

‘A thousand francs! Nom d’une pipe! a good sum to lay by with the girl’s dowry, comprenez?'

And so everything being settled they fell to enjoying their supper. There were long curled sausages, a full yard of bread, and a round ripe cheese, old and odorous, and plenty of wine in spite of the high price. And the beldame produced a bottle of ancient eau-de-vie to make the occasion greatly complete. Then they arranged all the geraniums and fuchsias and marigolds for the morning market. And Marcel put aside a little potted fuchsia to take back to the Widow Cornloup. And he and Denise walked down the quai, and again sat opposite where Abélard and Héloïse had lived. And Marcel played the song about ‘Love in the autumn,’ and, had it not been for the thoughtful and prudent Denise, he would have missed the last train in the Metro.