One Thursday, Camille, on returning from his office, brought with him a great fellow with square shoulders, whom he pushed in a familiar manner into the shop.
"Mother," he said to Madame Raquin, pointing to the newcomer, "do you recognise this gentleman?"
The old mercer looked at the strapping blade, seeking among her recollections and finding nothing, while Therese placidly observed the scene.
"What!" resumed Camille, "you don't recognise Laurent, little Laurent, the son of daddy Laurent who owns those beautiful fields of corn out Jeufosse way. Don't you remember? I went to school with him; he came to fetch me of a morning on leaving the house of his uncle, who was our neighbour, and you used to give him slices of bread and jam."
All at once Madame Raquin recollected little Laurent, whom she found very much grown. It was quite ten years since she had seen him. She now did her best to make him forget her lapse of memory in greeting him, by recalling a thousand little incidents of the past, and by adopting a wheedling manner towards him that was quite maternal. Laurent had seated himself. With a peaceful smile on his lips, he replied to the questions addressed to him in a clear voice, casting calm and easy glances around him.
"Just imagine," said Camille, "this joker has been employed at the Orleans-Railway-Station for eighteen months, and it was only to-night that we met and recognised one another—the administration is so vast, so important!"
As the young man made this remark, he opened his eyes wider, and pinched his lips, proud to be a humble wheel in such a large machine. Shaking his head, he continued:
"Oh! but he is in a good position. He has studied. He already earns 1,500 francs a year. His father sent him to college. He had read for the bar, and learnt painting. That is so, is it not, Laurent? You'll dine with us?"
"I am quite willing," boldly replied the other.
He got rid of his hat and made himself comfortable in the shop, while Madame Raquin ran off to her stewpots. Therese, who had not yet pronounced a word, looked at the new arrival. She had never seen such a man before. Laurent, who was tall and robust, with a florid complexion, astonished her. It was with a feeling akin to admiration, that she contemplated his low forehead planted with coarse black hair, his full cheeks, his red lips, his regular features of sanguineous beauty. For an instant her eyes rested on his neck, a neck that was thick and short, fat and powerful. Then she became lost in the contemplation of his great hands which he kept spread out on his knees: the fingers were square; the clenched fist must be enormous and would fell an ox.