Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: Les Halles, Paris
The story of Père Fabrice, who amassed a fortune in Paris, is told in Paris with Pen and Pencil by David W. Bartlett, published in 1854. Caution: Do not read this before or immediately after a meal.
Fabrice had always a turn for speculation, and being a private soldier he made money by selling small articles to his fellow soldiers. When his term of service had expired, he entered the employ of a rag-merchant, and in a little while proposed a partnership with his master, who laughed at his impudence. He then set up an opposition shop, and lost all he had saved in a month.
He then became a porter at the halles where turkeys were sold. He noticed that those which remained unsold, in a day or two lost half their value. He asked the old women how the customers knew the turkeys were not fresh. They replied that the legs changed from a bright black to a dingy brown. Fabrice went home, was absent the next day from the halles, and on the third day returned with a bottle of liquid. Seizing hold of the first brown-legged turkey he met with, he forthwith painted its legs out of the contents of his bottle, and placing the thus decorated bird by the side of one just killed, he asked who now was able to see the difference between the fresh bird and the stale one? The old women were seized with admiration. They are a curious set of beings, those dames de la halle; their admiration is unbounded for successful adventurers—witness their enthusiasm for Louis Napoleon [Napoleon III]. They adopted our friend’s idea without hesitation, made an agreement with him on the principle of the division of profits; and it immediately became a statistical puzzle with the curious inquirers on these subjects, how it came to pass that stale turkeys should have all at once disappeared from the Paris market? It was set down to the increase of prosperity consequent on the constitutional régime and the wisdom of the citizen-king. The old women profited largely; but unfortunately, like the rest of the world, they in time forgot both their enthusiasm and their benefactor, and Père Fabrice found himself involved in a daily succession of squabbles about his half-profits. Tired out at last, he made an arrangement with the old dames, and, in military phrase, sold out.
Possessed now of about double the capital with which he entered, he recollected his old friend, the rag-merchant, and went a second time to propose a partnership. ‘I am a man of capital now,’ he said; ‘you need not laugh so loud this time.’ The rag-merchant asked the amount of his capital; and when he heard it, whistled Ninon dormait, and turned upon his heel. ‘No wonder,’ said Fabrice afterward; ‘I little knew then what a rag-merchant was worth. That man could have bought up two of Louis Philippe’s ministers of finance.’ At the time, however, he did not take the matter so philosophically, and resolved, after the fashion of his class, not to drown himself, but to make a night of it. He found a friend, and went with him to dine at a small eating-house. While there, they noticed the quantity of broken bread thrown under the tables by the reckless and quarrelsome set that frequented the place; and his friend remarked, that if all the bread so thrown about were collected, it would feed half the quartier. Fabrice said nothing; but he was in search of an idea, and he took up his friend’s.
The next day, he called on the restaurateur, and asked him for what he would sell the broken bread he was accustomed to sweep in the dustpan. The bread he wanted, it should be observed, was a very different thing from the fragments left upon the table; these had been consecrated to the marrow’s soup from time immemorial. He wanted the dirty bread actually thrown under the table, which even a Parisian restaurateur of the Quartier Latin, whose business it was to collect dirt and crumbs, had hitherto thrown away. Our restaurateur caught eagerly at the offer, made a bargain for a small sum; and Master Fabrice forthwith proceeded to about a hundred eating-houses of the same kind, with all of whom he made similar bargains. Upon this he established a bakery, extending his operations till there was scarcely a restaurant in Paris of which the sweepings did not find their way to the oven of Père Fabrice. Hence it is that the fourpenny restaurants are supplied; hence it is that the itinerant venders of gingerbread find their first material. Let any man who eats bread at any very cheap place in the capital take warning, if his stomach goes against the idea of a réchauffé of bread from the dust-hole. Fabrice, notwithstanding some extravagances with the fair sex, became a millionaire; and the greatest glory of his life was—that he lived to eclipse his old master, the rag-merchant.
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