Ball of Fat 7
The man—a well-known character—was Cornudet, the democrat, the terror of all
respectable people. For the past twenty years his big red beard had been on
terms of intimate acquaintance with the tankards of all the republican cafes.
With the help of his comrades and brethren he had dissipated a respectable
fortune left him by his father, an old-established confectioner, and he now
impatiently awaited the Republic, that he might at last be rewarded with the
post he had earned by his revolutionary orgies. On the fourth of
September—possibly as the result of a practical joke—he was led to believe that
he had been appointed prefect; but when he attempted to take up the duties of
the position the clerks in charge of the office refused to recognize his
authority, and he was compelled in consequence to retire. A good sort of fellow
in other respects, inoffensive and obliging, he had thrown himself zealously
into the work of making an organized defence of the town. He had had pits dug in
the level country, young forest trees felled, and traps set on all the roads;
then at the approach of the enemy, thoroughly satisfied with his preparations,
he had hastily returned to the town. He thought he might now do more good at
Havre, where new intrenchments would soon be necessary.
The woman, who belonged to the courtesan class, was celebrated for an embonpoint unusual for her age, which had earned for her the sobriquet of "Ball of Fat" (Tallow Ball). Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages; with a shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the bodice of her dress, she was yet attractive and much sought after, owing to her fresh and pleasing appearance. Her face was like a crimson apple, a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes, fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths; her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest of white teeth.
As soon as she was recognized the respectable matrons of the party began to whisper among themselves, and the words "hussy" and "public scandal" were uttered so loudly that Ball of Fat raised her head. She forthwith cast such a challenging, bold look at her neighbors that a sudden silence fell on the company, and all lowered their eyes, with the exception of Loiseau, who watched her with evident interest.
But conversation was soon resumed among the three ladies, whom the presence of this girl had suddenly drawn together in the bonds of friendship—one might almost say in those of intimacy. They decided that they ought to combine, as it were, in their dignity as wives in face of this shameless hussy; for legitimized love always despises its easygoing brother.
The three men, also, brought together by a certain conservative instinct awakened by the presence of Cornudet, spoke of money matters in a tone expressive of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the losses he had sustained at the hands of the Prussians, spoke of the cattle which had been stolen from him, the crops which had been ruined, with the easy manner of a nobleman who was also a tenfold millionaire, and whom such reverses would scarcely inconvenience for a single year. Monsieur Carre-Lamadon, a man of wide experience in the cotton industry, had taken care to send six hundred thousand francs to England as provision against the rainy day he was always anticipating. As for Loiseau, he had managed to sell to the French commissariat department all the wines he had in stock, so that the state now owed him a considerable sum, which he hoped to receive at Havre.
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