Now all talk of the little Claire has ceased. As was expected, the case has been abandoned. So Joseph and the forest of Raillon will keep their secret forever. Of that poor little human creature no more will be said henceforth than of the body of a blackbird that dies in the woods, in a thicket. The father continues to break stone on the highway, as if nothing had happened, and the town, stirred and roused for a moment by this crime, resumes its usual aspect,—an aspect still more dismal because of the winter. The very bitter cold keeps people shut up in their houses. One can scarcely get a glimpse of their pale and sleepy faces behind the frosty windows, and in the streets one seldom meets anybody except ragged vagabonds and shivering dogs.
To-day Madame sent me on an errand to the butcher's shop, and I took the dogs with me. While I was there, an old woman timidly entered the shop, and asked for meat,—"a little meat to make a little soup for my sick boy." The butcher selected, from the débris piled up in a large copper pan, a dirty bit, half bone, half fat, and, after carefully weighing it, announced: