It was not until Sunday, the day after
the massacre at Sainte-Roure, that the troops passed
through Plassans again. The prefect and the colonel,
whom Monsieur Garçonnet had invited to dinner,
once more entered the town alone. The soldiers
went round the ramparts and encamped in the Faubourg,
on the Nice road. Night was falling; the sky,
overcast since the morning, had a strange yellow tint,
and illumined the town with a murky light, similar
to the copper-coloured glimmer of stormy weather.
The reception of the troops by the inhabitants was
timid; the bloodstained soldiers, who passed by weary
and silent, in the yellow twilight, horrified the
cleanly citizens promenading on the Cours.
They stepped out of the way whispering terrible stories
of fusillades and revengeful reprisals which still
live in the recollection of the region. The Coup
d’Etat terror was beginning to make itself felt,
an overwhelming terror which kept the South in a state
of tremor for many a long month. Plassans, in
its fear and hatred of the insurgents, had welcomed
the troops on their first arrival with enthusiasm;
but now, at the appearance of that gloomy taciturn
regiment, whose men were ready to fire at a word from
their officers, the retired merchants and even the
notaries of the new town anxiously examined their consciences,
asking if they had not committed some political peccadilloes
which might be thought deserving of a bullet.
The municipal authorities had returned
on the previous evening in a couple of carts hired
at Sainte-Roure. Their unexpected entry was devoid
of all triumphal display. Rougon surrendered the
mayor’s arm-chair without much regret.
The game was over; and with feverish longing he now
awaited the recompense for his devotion. On the
Sunday he had not hoped for it until the
following day he received a letter from
Eugene. Since the previous Thursday Felicite
had taken care to send her son the numbers of the
“Gazette” and “Independant”
which, in special second editions had narrated the
battle of the night and the arrival of the prefect
at Plassans. Eugene now replied by return of post
that the nomination of a receivership would soon be
signed; but added that he wished to give them some
good news immediately. He had obtained the ribbon
of the Legion of Honour for his father. Felicite
wept with joy. Her husband decorated! Her
proud dream had never gone as far as that. Rougon,
pale with delight, declared they must give a grand
dinner that very evening. He no longer thought
of expense; he would have thrown his last fifty francs
out of the drawing-room windows in order to celebrate
that glorious day.
“Listen,” he said to his
wife; “you must invite Sicardot: he has
annoyed me with that rosette of his for a long time!
Then Granoux and Roudier; I shouldn’t be at
all sorry to make them feel that it isn’t their
purses that will ever win them the cross. Vuillet
is a skinflint, but the triumph ought to be complete:
invite him as well as the small fry. I was forgetting;
you must go and call on the marquis in person; we will
seat him on your right; he’ll look very well
at our table. You know that Monsieur Garçonnet
is entertaining the colonel and the prefect. That
is to make me understand that I am nobody now.
But I can afford to laugh at his mayoralty; it doesn’t
bring him in a sou! He has invited me, but I
shall tell him that I also have some people coming.
The others will laugh on the wrong side of their mouths
to-morrow. And let everything be of the best.
Have everything sent from the Hotel de Provence.
We must outdo the mayor’s dinner.”
Felicite set to work. Pierre
still felt some vague uneasiness amidst his rapture.
The Coup d’Etat was going to pay his debts, his
son Aristide had repented of his faults, and he was
at last freeing himself from Macquart; but he feared
some folly on Pascal’s part, and was especially
anxious about the lot reserved for Silvere. Not
that he felt the least pity for the lad; he was simply
afraid the matter of the gendarme might come before
the Assize Court. Ah! if only some discriminating
bullet had managed to rid him of that young scoundrel!
As his wife had pointed out to him in the morning,
all obstacles had fallen away before him; the family
which had dishonoured him had, at the last moment,
worked for his elevation; his sons Eugene and Aristide,
those spend-thrifts, the cost of whose college life
he had so bitterly regretted, were at last paying
interest on the capital expended for their education.
And yet the thought of that wretched Silvere must
come to mar his hour of triumph!
While Felicite was running about to
prepare the dinner for the evening, Pierre heard of
the arrival of the troops and determined to go and
make inquiries. Sicardot, whom he had questioned
on his return, knew nothing; Pascal must have remained
to look after the wounded; as for Silvere, he had
not even been seen by the commander, who scarcely knew
him. Rougon therefore repaired to the Faubourg,
intending to make inquiries there and at the same
time pay Macquart the eight hundred francs which he
had just succeeded in raising with great difficulty.
However, when he found himself in the crowded encampment,
and from a distance saw the prisoners sitting in long
files on the beams in the Aire Saint-Mittre, guarded
by soldiers gun in hand, he felt afraid of being compromised,
and so slunk off to his mother’s house, with
the intention of sending the old woman out to pick
up some information.
When he entered the hovel it was almost
night. At first the only person he saw there
was Macquart smoking and drinking brandy.
“Is that you? I’m
glad of it,” muttered Antoine. “I’m
growing deuced cold here. Have you got the money?”
But Pierre did not reply. He
had just perceived his son Pascal leaning over the
bed. And thereupon he questioned him eagerly.
The doctor, surprised by his uneasiness, which he
attributed to paternal affection, told him that the
soldiers had taken him and would have shot him, had
it not been for the intervention of some honest fellow
whom he did not know. Saved by his profession
of surgeon, he had returned to Plassans with the troops.
This greatly relieved Rougon. So there was yet
another who would not compromise him. He was
evincing his delight by repeated hand-shakings, when
Pascal concluded in a sorrowful voice: “Oh!
don’t make merry. I have just found my
poor grandmother in a very dangerous state. I
brought her back this carbine, which she values very
much; I found her lying here, and she has not moved
Pierre’s eyes were becoming
accustomed to the dimness. In the fast fading
light he saw aunt Dide stretched, rigid and seemingly
lifeless, upon her bed. Her wretched frame, attacked
by neurosis from the hour of birth, was at length
laid prostrate by a supreme shock. Her nerves
had so to say consumed her blood. Moreover some
cruel grief seemed to have suddenly accelerated her
slow wasting-away. Her pale nun-like face, drawn
and pinched by a life of gloom and cloister-like self-denial,
was now stained with red blotches. With convulsed
features, eyes that glared terribly, and hands twisted
and clenched, she lay at full length in her skirts,
which failed to hide the sharp outlines of her scrawny
limbs. Extended there with lips closely pressed
she imparted to the dim room all the horror of a mute
Rougon made a gesture of vexation.
This heart-rending spectacle was very distasteful
to him. He had company coming to dinner in the
evening, and it would be extremely inconvenient for
him to have to appear mournful. His mother was
always doing something to bother him. She might
just as well have chosen another day. However,
he put on an appearance of perfect ease, as he said:
“Bah! it’s nothing. I’ve seen
her like that a hundred times. You must let her
lie still; it’s the only thing that does her
Pascal shook his head. “No,
this fit isn’t like the others,” he whispered.
“I have often studied her, and have never observed
such symptoms before. Just look at her eyes:
there is a peculiar fluidity, a pale brightness about
them which causes me considerable uneasiness.
And her face, how frightfully every muscle of it is
Then bending over to observe her features
more closely, he continued in a whisper, as though
speaking to himself: “I have never seen
such a face, excepting among people who have been
murdered or have died from fright. She must have
experienced some terrible shock.”
“But how did the attack begin?”
Rougon impatiently inquired, at a loss for an excuse
to leave the room.
Pascal did not know. Macquart,
as he poured himself out another glass of brandy,
explained that he had felt an inclination to drink
a little Cognac, and had sent her to fetch a bottle.
She had not been long absent, and at the very moment
when she returned she had fallen rigid on the floor
without uttering a word. Macquart himself had
carried her to the bed.
“What surprises me,” he
said, by way of conclusion, “is, that she did
not break the bottle.”
The young doctor reflected. After
a short pause he resumed: “I heard two
shots fired as I came here. Perhaps those ruffians
have been shooting some more prisoners. If she
passed through the ranks of the soldiers at that moment,
the sight of blood may have thrown her into this fit.
She must have had some dreadful shock.”
Fortunately he had with him the little
medicine-case which he had been carrying about ever
since the departure of the insurgents. He tried
to pour a few drops of reddish liquid between aunt
Dide’s closely-set teeth, while Macquart again
asked his brother: “Have you got the money?”
“Yes, I’ve brought it;
we’ll settle now,” Rougon replied, glad
of this diversion.
Thereupon Macquart, seeing that he
was about to be paid, began to moan. He had only
learnt the consequence of his treachery when it was
too late; otherwise he would have demanded twice or
thrice as much. And he complained bitterly.
Really now a thousand francs was not enough. His
children had forsaken him, he was all alone in the
world, and obliged to quit France. He almost
wept as he spoke of his coming exile.
“Come now, will you take the
eight hundred francs?” said Rougon, who was
in haste to be off.
“No, certainly not; double the
sum. Your wife cheated me. If she had told
me distinctly what it was she expected of me, I would
never have compromised myself for such a trifle.”
Rougon laid the eight hundred francs upon the table.
“I swear I haven’t got
any more,” he resumed. “I will think
of you later. But do, for mercy’s sake,
get away this evening.”
Macquart, cursing and muttering protests,
thereupon carried the table to the window, and began
to count the gold in the fading twilight. The
coins tickled the tips of his fingers very pleasantly
as he let them fall, and jingled musically in the
darkness. At last he paused for a moment to say:
“You promised to get me a berth, remember.
I want to return to France. The post of rural
guard in some pleasant neighbourhood which I could
mention, would just suit me.”
“Very well, I’ll see about
it,” Rougon replied. “Have you got
the eight hundred francs?”
Macquart resumed his counting.
The last coins were just clinking when a burst of
laughter made them turn their heads. Aunt Dide
was standing up in front of the bed, with her bodice
unfastened, her white hair hanging loose, and her
face stained with red blotches. Pascal had in
vain endeavoured to hold her down. Trembling
all over, and with her arms outstretched, she shook
her head deliriously.
“The blood-money! the blood-money!”
she again and again repeated. “I heard
the gold. And it is they, they who sold him.
Ah! the murderers! They are a pack of wolves.”
Then she pushed her hair aback, and
passed her hand over her brow, as though seeking to
collect her thoughts. And she continued:
“Ah! I have long seen him with a bullet-hole
in his forehead. There were always people lying
in wait for him with guns. They used to sign to
me that they were going to fire. . . . It’s
terrible! I feel some one breaking my bones and
battering out my brains. Oh! Mercy!
Mercy! I beseech you; he shall not see her any
more never, never! I will shut him
up. I will prevent him from walking out with
her. Mercy! Mercy! Don’t fire.
It is not my fault. If you knew ”
She had almost fallen on her knees,
and was weeping and entreating while she stretched
her poor trembling hands towards some horrible vision
which she saw in the darkness. Then she suddenly
rose upright, and her eyes opened still more widely
as a terrible cry came from her convulsed throat,
as though some awful sight, visible to her alone, had
filled her with mad terror.
“Oh, the gendarme!” she
said, choking and falling backwards on the bed, where
she rolled about, breaking into long bursts of furious,
Pascal was studying the attack attentively.
The two brothers, who felt very frightened, and only
detected snatches of what their mother said, had taken
refuge in a corner of the room. When Rougon heard
the word gendarme, he thought he understood her.
Ever since the murder of her lover, the elder Macquart,
on the frontier, aunt Dide had cherished a bitter
hatred against all gendarmes and custom-house
officers, whom she mingled together in one common
longing for vengeance.
“Why, it’s the story of
the poacher that she’s telling us,” he
But Pascal made a sign to him to keep
quiet. The stricken woman had raised herself
with difficulty, and was looking round her, with a
stupefied air. She remained silent for a moment,
endeavouring to recognise the various objects in the
room, as though she were in some strange place.
Then, with a sudden expression of anxiety, she asked:
“Where is the gun?”
The doctor put the carbine into her
hands. At this she raised a light cry of joy,
and gazed at the weapon, saying in a soft, sing-song,
girlish whisper: “That is it. Oh!
I recognise it! It is all stained with blood.
The stains are quite fresh to-day. His red hands
have left marks of blood on the butt. Ah! poor,
poor aunt Dide!”
Then she became dizzy once more, and
lapsed into silent thought.
“The gendarme was dead,”
she murmured at last, “but I have seen him again;
he has come back. They never die, those blackguards!”
Again did gloomy passion come over
her, and, shaking the carbine, she advanced towards
her two sons who, speechless with fright, retreated
to the very wall. Her loosened skirts trailed
along the ground, as she drew up her twisted frame,
which age had reduced to mere bones.
“It’s you who fired!”
she cried. “I heard the gold. . . .
Wretched woman that I am! . . . I brought nothing
but wolves into the world a whole family a
whole litter of wolves! . . . There was only one
poor lad, and him they have devoured; each had a bite
at him, and their lips are covered with blood. . .
. Ah! the accursed villains! They have robbed,
they have murdered. . . . And they live like gentlemen.
Villains! Accursed villains!”
She sang, laughed, cried, and repeated
“accursed villains!” in strangely sonorous
tones, which suggested a crackling of a fusillade.
Pascal, with tears in his eyes, took her in his arms
and laid her on the bed again. She submitted
like a child, but persisted in her wailing cries,
accelerating their rhythm, and beating time on the
sheet with her withered hands.
“That’s just what I was
afraid of,” the doctor said; “she is mad.
The blow has been too heavy for a poor creature already
subject, as she is, to acute neurosis. She will
die in a lunatic asylum like her father.”
“But what could she have seen?”
asked Rougon, at last venturing to quit the corner
where he had hidden himself.
“I have a terrible suspicion,”
Pascal replied. “I was going to speak to
you about Silvere when you came in. He is a prisoner.
You must endeavour to obtain his release from the
prefect, if there is still time.”
The old oil-dealer turned pale as
he looked at his son. Then, rapidly, he responded:
“Listen to me; you stay here and watch her.
I’m too busy this evening. We will see
to-morrow about conveying her to the lunatic asylum
at Les Tulettes. As for you, Macquart, you must
leave this very night. Swear to me that you will!
I’m going to find Monsieur de Bleriot.”
He stammered as he spoke, and felt
more eager than ever to get out into the fresh air
of the streets. Pascal fixed a penetrating look
on the madwoman, and then on his father and uncle.
His professional instinct was getting the better of
him, and he studied the mother and the sons, with
all the keenness of a naturalist observing the metamorphosis
of some insect. He pondered over the growth of
that family to which he belonged, over the different
branches growing from one parent stock, whose sap
carried identical germs to the farthest twigs, which
bent in divers ways according to the sunshine or shade
in which they lived. And for a moment, as by
the glow of a lightning flash, he thought he could
espy the future of the Rougon-Macquart family, a pack
of unbridled, insatiate appetites amidst a blaze of
gold and blood.
Aunt Dide, however, had ceased her
wailing chant at the mention of Silvere’s name.
For a moment she listened anxiously. Then she
broke out into terrible shrieks. Night had now
completely fallen, and the black room seemed void
and horrible. The shrieks of the madwoman, who
was no longer visible, rang out from the darkness
as from a grave. Rougon, losing his head, took
to flight, pursued by those taunting cries, whose
bitterness seemed to increase amidst the gloom.
As he was emerging from the Impasse
Saint-Mittre with hesitating steps, wondering whether
it would not be dangerous to solicit Silvere’s
pardon from the prefect, he saw Aristide prowling
about the timber-yard. The latter, recognising
his father, ran up to him with an expression of anxiety
and whispered a few words in his ear. Pierre turned
pale, and cast a look of alarm towards the end of
the yard, where the darkness was only relieved by
the ruddy glow of a little gipsy fire. Then they
both disappeared down the Rue de Rome, quickening
their steps as though they had committed a murder,
and turning up their coat-collars in order that they
might not be recognised.
“That saves me an errand,”
Rougon whispered. “Let us go to dinner.
They are waiting for us.”
When they arrived, the yellow drawing-room
was resplendent. Felicite was all over the place.
Everybody was there; Sicardot, Granoux, Roudier, Vuillet,
the oil-dealers, the almond-dealers, the whole set.
The marquis, however, had excused himself on the plea
of rheumatism; and, besides, he was about to leave
Plassans on a short trip. Those bloodstained
bourgeois offended his feelings of delicacy, and moreover
his relative, the Count de Valqueyras, had begged him
to withdraw from public notice for a little time.
Monsieur de Carnavant’s refusal vexed the Rougons;
but Felicite consoled herself by resolving to make
a more profuse display. She hired a pair of candelabra
and ordered several additional dishes as a kind of
substitute for the marquis. The table was laid
in the yellow drawing-room, in order to impart more
solemnity to the occasion. The Hotel de Provence
had supplied the silver, the china, and the glass.
The cloth had been laid ever since five o’clock
in order that the guests on arriving might feast their
eyes upon it. At either end of the table, on
the white cloth, were bouquets of artificial roses,
in porcelain vases gilded and painted with flowers.
When the habitual guests of the yellow
drawing-room were assembled there they could not conceal
their admiration of the spectacle. Several gentlemen
smiled with an air of embarrassment while they exchanged
furtive glances, which clearly signified, “These
Rougons are mad, they are throwing their money out
of the window.” The truth was that Felicite,
on going round to invite her guests, had been unable
to hold her tongue. So everybody knew that Pierre
had been decorated, and that he was about to be nominated
to some post; at which, of course, they pulled wry
faces. Roudier indeed observed that “the
little black woman was puffing herself out too much.”
Now that “prize-day” had come this band
of bourgeois, who had rushed upon the expiring Republic each
one keeping an eye on the other, and glorying in giving
a deeper bite than his neighbour did not
think it fair that their hosts should have all the
laurels of the battle. Even those who had merely
howled by instinct, asking no recompense of the rising
Empire, were greatly annoyed to see that, thanks to
them, the poorest and least reputable of them all should
be decorated with the red ribbon. The whole yellow
drawing-room ought to have been decorated!
“Not that I value the decoration,”
Roudier said to Granoux, whom he had dragged into
the embrasure of a window. “I refused it
in the time of Louis-Philippe, when I was purveyor
to the court. Ah! Louis-Philippe was a good
king. France will never find his equal!”
Roudier was becoming an Orleanist
once more. And he added, with the crafty hypocrisy
of an old hosier from the Rue Saint-Honore: “But
you, my dear Granoux; don’t you think the ribbon
would look well in your button-hole? After all,
you did as much to save the town as Rougon did.
Yesterday, when I was calling upon some very distinguished
persons, they could scarcely believe it possible that
you had made so much noise with a mere hammer.”
Granoux stammered his thanks, and,
blushing like a maiden at her first confession of
love, whispered in Roudier’s ear: “Don’t
say anything about it, but I have reason to believe
that Rougon will ask the ribbon for me. He’s
a good fellow at heart, you know.”
The old hosier thereupon became grave,
and assumed a very affable manner. When Vuillet
came and spoke to him of the well-deserved reward
that their friend had just received, he replied in
a loud voice, so as to be heard by Felicite, who was
sitting a little way off, that “men like Rougon
were an ornament to the Legion of Honour.”
The bookseller joined in the chorus; he had that morning
received a formal assurance that the custom of the
college would be restored to him. As for Sicardot,
he at first felt somewhat annoyed to find himself no
longer the only one of the set who was decorated.
According to him, none but soldiers had a right to
the ribbon. Pierre’s valour surprised him.
However, being in reality a good-natured fellow, he
at last grew warmer, and ended by saying that the
Napoleons always knew how to distinguish men
of spirit and energy.
Rougon and Aristide consequently had
an enthusiastic reception; on their arrival all hands
were held out to them. Some of the guests went
so far as to embrace them. Angele sat on the
sofa, by the side of her mother-in-law, feeling very
happy, and gazing at the table with the astonishment
of a gourmand who has never seen so many dishes at
once. When Aristide approached, Sicardot complimented
his son-in-law upon his superb article in the “Independant.”
He restored his friendship to him. The young
man, in answer to the fatherly questions which Sicardot
addressed to him, replied that he was anxious to take
his little family with him to Paris, where his brother
Eugene would push him forward; but he was in want
of five hundred francs. Sicardot thereupon promised
him the money, already foreseeing the day when his
daughter would be received at the Tuileries by Napoleon
In the meantime, Felicite had made
a sign to her husband. Pierre, surrounded by
everybody and anxiously questioned about his pallor,
could only escape for a minute. He was just able
to whisper in his wife’s ear that he had found
Pascal and that Macquart would leave that night.
Then lowering his voice still more he told her of
his mother’s insanity, and placed his finger
on his lips, as if to say: “Not a word;
that would spoil the whole evening.” Felicite
bit her lips. They exchanged a look in which
they read their common thoughts: so now the old
woman would not trouble them any more: the poacher’s
hovel would be razed to the ground, as the walls of
the Fouques’ enclosure had been demolished; and
they would for ever enjoy the respect and esteem of
But the guests were looking at the
table. Felicite showed the gentlemen their seats.
It was perfect bliss. As each one took his spoon,
Sicardot made a gesture to solicit a moment’s
delay. Then he rose and gravely said: “Gentlemen,
on behalf of the company present, I wish to express
to our host how pleased we are at the rewards which
his courage and patriotism have procured for him.
I now see that he must have acted upon a heaven-sent
inspiration in remaining here, while those beggars
were dragging myself and others along the high roads.
Therefore, I heartily applaud the decision of the
government. . . . Let me finish, you can then
congratulate our friend. . . . Know, then, that
our friend, besides being made a chevalier of the
Legion of Honour, is also to be appointed to a receiver
There was a cry of surprise.
They had expected a small post. Some of them
tried to force a smile; but, aided by the sight of
the table, the compliments again poured forth profusely.
Sicardot once more begged for silence.
“Wait one moment,” he resumed; “I
have not finished. Just one word. It is probable
that our friend will remain among us, owing to the
death of Monsieur Peirotte.”
Whilst the guests burst out into exclamations,
Felicite felt a keen pain in her heart. Sicardot
had already told her that the receiver had been shot;
but at the mention of that sudden and shocking death,
just as they were starting on that triumphal dinner,
it seemed as if a chilling gust swept past her face.
She remembered her wish; it was she who had killed
that man. However, amidst the tinkling music of
the silver, the company began to do honour to the
banquet. In the provinces, people eat very much
and very noisily. By the time the relève
was served, the gentlemen were all talking together;
they showered kicks upon the vanquished, flattered
one another, and made disparaging remarks about the
absence of the marquis. It was impossible, they
said, to maintain intercourse with the nobility.
Roudier even gave out that the marquis had begged
to be excused because his fear of the insurgents had
given him jaundice. At the second course they
all scrambled like hounds at the quarry. The
oil-dealers and almond-dealers were the men who saved
France. They clinked glasses to the glory of the
Rougons. Granoux, who was very red, began to
stammer, while Vuillet, very pale, was quite drunk.
Nevertheless Sicardot continued filling his glass.
For her part Angele, who had already eaten too much,
prepared herself some sugar and water. The gentlemen
were so delighted at being freed from panic, and finding
themselves together again in that yellow drawing-room,
round a good table, in the bright light radiating
from the candelabra and the chandelier which
they now saw for the first time without its fly-specked
cover that they gave way to most exuberant
folly and indulged in the coarsest enjoyment.
Their voices rose in the warm atmosphere more huskily
and eulogistically at each successive dish till they
could scarcely invent fresh compliments. However,
one of them, an old retired master-tanner, hit upon
this fine phrase that the dinner was a
“perfect feast worthy of Lucullus.”
Pierre was radiant, and his big pale
face perspired with triumph. Felicite, already
accustoming herself to her new station in life, said
that they would probably rent poor Monsieur Peirotte’s
flat until they could purchase a house of their own
in the new town. She was already planning how
she would place her future furniture in the receiver’s
rooms. She was entering into possession of her
Tuileries. At one moment, however, as the uproar
of voices became deafening, she seemed to recollect
something, and quitting her seat she whispered in Aristide’s
ear: “And Silvere?”
The young man started with surprise at the question.
“He is dead,” he replied,
likewise in a whisper. “I was there when
the gendarme blew his brains out with a pistol.”
Felicite in her turn shuddered.
She opened her mouth to ask her son why he had not
prevented this murder by claiming the lad; but abruptly
hesitating she remained there speechless. Then
Aristide, who had read her question on her quivering
lips, whispered: “You understand, I said
nothing so much the worse for him!
I did quite right. It’s a good riddance.”
This brutal frankness displeased Felicite.
So Aristide had his skeleton, like his father and
mother. He would certainly not have confessed
so openly that he had been strolling about the Faubourg
and had allowed his cousin to be shot, had not the
wine from the Hotel de Provence and the dreams he
was building upon his approaching arrival in Paris,
made him depart from his habitual cunning. The
words once spoken, he swung himself to and fro on
his chair. Pierre, who had watched the conversation
between his wife and son from a distance, understood
what had passed and glanced at them like an accomplice
imploring silence. It was the last blast of terror,
as it were, which blew over the Rougons, amidst the
splendour and enthusiastic merriment of the dinner.
True, Felicite, on returning to her seat, espied a
taper burning behind a window on the other side of
the road. Some one sat watching Monsieur Peirotte’s
corpse, which had been brought back from Sainte-Roure
that morning. She sat down, feeling as if that
taper were heating her back. But the gaiety was
now increasing, and exclamations of rapture rang through
the yellow drawing-room when the dessert appeared.
At that same hour, the Faubourg was
still shuddering at the tragedy which had just stained
the Aire Saint-Mittre with blood. The return of
the troops, after the carnage on the Nores plain, had
been marked by the most cruel reprisals. Men
were beaten to death behind bits of wall, with the
butt-ends of muskets, others had their brains blown
out in ravines by the pistols of gendarmes.
In order that terror might impose silence, the soldiers
strewed their road with corpses. One might have
followed them by the red trail which they left behind.
It was a long butchery. At every halting-place,
a few insurgents were massacred. Two were killed
at Sainte-Roure, three at Ocheres, one at Beage.
When the troops were encamped at Plassans, on the
Nice road, it was decided that one more prisoner,
the most guilty, should be shot. The victors judged
it wise to leave this fresh corpse behind them in
order to inspire the town with respect for the new-born
Empire. But the soldiers were now weary of killing;
none offered himself for the fatal task. The prisoners,
thrown on the beams in the timber-yard as though on
a camp bed, and bound together in pairs by the hands,
listened and waited in a state of weary, resigned
Though M. Zola has changed his
place in his account of the insurrection, that
account is strictly accurate in all its chief
particulars. What he says of the savagery both
of the soldiers and of their officers is confirmed
by all impartial historical writers. EDITOR.
At that moment the gendarme Rengade
roughly opened a way for himself through the crowd
of inquisitive idlers. As soon as he heard that
the troops had returned with several hundred insurgents,
he had risen from bed, shivering with fever, and risking
his life in the cold, dark December air. Scarcely
was he out of doors when his wound reopened, the bandage
which covered his eyeless socket became stained with
blood, and a red streamlet trickled over his cheek
and moustache. He looked frightful in his dumb
fury with his pale face and blood-stained bandage,
as he ran along closely scrutinising each of the prisoners.
He followed the beams, bending down and going to and
fro, making the bravest shudder by his abrupt appearance.
And, all of a sudden: “Ah! the bandit, I’ve
got him!” he cried.
He had just laid his hand on Silvere’s
shoulder. Silvere, crouching down on a beam,
with lifeless and expressionless face, was looking
straight before him into the pale twilight, with a
calm, stupefied air. Ever since his departure
from Sainte-Roure, he had retained that vacant stare.
Along the high road, for many a league, whenever the
soldiers urged on the march of their captives with
the butt-ends of their rifles, he had shown himself
as gentle as a child. Covered with dust, thirsty
and weary, he trudged onward without saying a word,
like one of those docile animals that herdsmen drive
along. He was thinking of Miette. He ever
saw her lying on the banner, under the trees with her
eyes turned upwards. For three days he had seen
none but her; and at this very moment, amidst the
growing darkness, he still saw her.
Rengade turned towards the officer,
who had failed to find among the soldiers the requisite
men for an execution.
“This villain put my eye out,”
he said, pointing to Silvere. “Hand him
over to me. It’s as good as done for you.”
The officer did not reply in words,
but withdrew with an air of indifference, making a
vague gesture. The gendarme understood that the
man was surrendered to him.
“Come, get up!” he resumed, as he shook
Silvere, like all the other prisoners,
had a companion attached to him. He was fastened
by the arm to a peasant of Poujols named Mourgue, a
man about fifty, who had been brutified by the scorching
sun and the hard labour of tilling the ground.
Crooked-backed already, his hands hardened, his face
coarse and heavy, he blinked his eyes in a stupid
manner, with the stubborn, distrustful expression of
an animal subject to the lash. He had set out
armed with a pitchfork, because his fellow villagers
had done so; but he could not have explained what had
thus set him adrift on the high roads. Since
he had been made a prisoner he understood it still
less. He had some vague idea that he was being
conveyed home. His amazement at finding himself
bound, the sight of all the people staring at him,
stupefied him still more. As he only spoke and
understood the dialect of the region, he could not
imagine what the gendarme wanted. He raised his
coarse, heavy face towards him with an effort; then,
fancying he was being asked the name of his village,
he said in his hoarse voice:
“I come from Poujols.”
A burst of laughter ran through the
crowd, and some voices cried: “Release
“Bah!” Rengade replied;
“the more of this vermin that’s crushed
the better. As they’re together, they can
There was a murmur.
But the gendarme turned his terrible
blood-stained face upon the onlookers, and they slunk
off. One cleanly little citizen went away declaring
that if he remained any longer it would spoil his appetite
for dinner. However some boys who recognised
Silvere, began to speak of “the red girl.”
Thereupon the little citizen retraced his steps, in
order to see the lover of the female standard-bearer,
that depraved creature who had been mentioned in the
Silvere, for his part, neither saw
nor heard anything; Rengade had to seize him by the
collar. Thereupon he got up, forcing Mourgue to
“Come,” said the gendarme. “It
won’t take long.”
Silvere then recognised the one-eyed
man. He smiled. He must have understood.
But he turned his head away. The sight of the
one-eyed man, of his moustaches which congealed blood
stiffened as with sinister rime, caused him profound
grief. He would have liked to die in perfect peace.
So he avoided the gaze of Rengade’s one eye,
which glared from beneath the white bandage.
And of his own accord he proceeded to the end of the
Aire Saint-Mittre, to the narrow lane hidden by the
timber stacks. Mourgue followed him thither.
The Aire stretched out, with an aspect
of desolation under the sallow sky. A murky light
fell here and there from the copper-coloured clouds.
Never had a sadder and more lingering twilight cast
its melancholy over this bare expanse this
wood-yard with its slumbering timber, so stiff and
rigid in the cold. The prisoners, the soldiers,
and the mob along the high road disappeared amid the
darkness of the trees. The expanse, the beams,
the piles of planks alone grew pale under the fading
light, assuming a muddy tint that vaguely suggested
the bed of a dried-up torrent. The sawyers’
trestles, rearing their meagre framework in a corner,
seemed to form gallows, or the uprights of a guillotine.
And there was no living soul there excepting three
gipsies who showed their frightened faces at the door
of their van an old man and woman, and a
big girl with woolly hair, whose eyes gleamed like
those of a wolf.
Before reaching the secluded path,
Silvere looked round him. He bethought himself
of a far away Sunday when he had crossed the wood-yard
in the bright moonlight. How calm and soft it
had been! how slowly had the pale rays
passed over the beams! Supreme silence had fallen
from the frozen sky. And amidst this silence,
the woolly-haired gipsy girl had sung in a low key
and an unknown tongue. Then Silvere remembered
that the seemingly far-off Sunday was only a week
old. But a week ago he had come to bid Miette
farewell! How long past it seemed! He felt
as though he had not set foot in the wood-yard for
years. But when he reached the narrow path his
heart failed him. He recognised the odour of the
grass, the shadows of the planks, the holes in the
wall. A woeful voice rose from all those things.
The path stretched out sad and lonely; it seemed longer
to him than usual, and he felt a cold wind blowing
down it. The spot had aged cruelly. He saw
that the wall was moss-eaten, that the verdant carpet
was dried up by frost, that the piles of timber had
been rotted by rain. It was perfect devastation.
The yellow twilight fell like fine dust upon the ruins
of all that had been most dear to him. He was
obliged to close his eyes that he might again behold
the lane green, and live his happy hours afresh.
It was warm weather; and he was racing with Miette
in the balmy air. Then the cruel December rains
fell unceasingly, yet they still came there, sheltering
themselves beneath the planks and listening with rapture
to the heavy plashing of the shower. His whole
life all his happiness passed
before him like a flash of lightning. Miette
was climbing over the wall, running to him, shaking
with sonorous laughter. She was there; he could
see her, gleaming white through the darkness, with
her living helm of ink-black hair. She was talking
about the magpies’ nests, which are so difficult
to steal, and she dragged him along with her.
Then he heard the gentle murmur of the Viorne
in the distance, the chirping of the belated grasshoppers,
and the blowing of the breeze among the poplars in
the meadows of Sainte-Claire. Ah, how they used
to run! How well he remembered it! She had
learnt to swim in a fortnight. She was a plucky
girl. She had only had one great fault: she
was inclined to pilfering. But he would have
cured her of that. Then the thought of their first
embraces brought him back to the narrow path.
They had always ended by returning to that nook.
He fancied he could hear the gipsy girl’s song
dying away, the creaking of the last shutters, the
solemn striking of the clocks. Then the hour
of separation came, and Miette climbed the wall again
and threw him a kiss. And he saw her no more.
Emotion choked him at the thought: he would never
see her again never!
“When you’re ready,”
jeered the one-eyed man; “come, choose your place.”
Silvere took a few more steps.
He was approaching the end of the path, and could
see nothing but a strip of sky in which the rust-coloured
light was fading away. Here had he spent his life
for two years past. The slow approach of death
added an ineffable charm to this pathway which had
so long served as a lovers’ walk. He loitered,
bidding a long and lingering farewell to all he loved;
the grass, the timber, the stone of the old wall,
all those things into which Miette had breathed life.
And again his thoughts wandered. They were waiting
till they should be old enough to marry: Aunt
Dide would remain with them. Ah! if they had
fled far away, very far away, to some unknown village,
where the scamps of the Faubourg would no longer have
been able to come and cast Chantegreil’s crime
in his daughter’s face. What peaceful bliss!
They would have opened a wheelwright’s workshop
beside some high road. No doubt, he cared little
for his ambitions now; he no longer thought of coachmaking,
of carriages with broad varnished panels as shiny as
mirrors. In the stupor of his despair he could
not remember why his dream of bliss would never come
to pass. Why did he not go away with Miette and
aunt Dide? Then as he racked his memory, he heard
the sharp crackling of a fusillade; he saw a standard
fall before him, its staff broken and its folds drooping
like the wings of a bird brought down by a shot.
It was the Republic falling asleep with Miette under
the red flag. Ah, what wretchedness! They
were both dead, both had bleeding wounds in their
breasts. And it was they the corpses
of his two loves that now barred his path
of life. He had nothing left him and might well
die himself. These were the thoughts that had
made him so gentle, so listless, so childlike all
the way from Sainte-Roure. The soldiers might
have struck him, he would not have felt it. His
spirit no longer inhabited his body. It was far
away, prostrate beside the loved ones who were dead
under the trees amidst the pungent smoke of the gunpowder.
But the one-eyed man was growing impatient;
giving a push to Mourgue, who was lagging behind,
he growled: “Get along, do; I don’t
want to be here all night.”
Silvere stumbled. He looked at
his feet. A fragment of a skull lay whitening
in the grass. He thought he heard a murmur of
voices filling the pathway. The dead were calling
him, those long departed ones, whose warm breath had
so strangely perturbed him and his sweetheart during
the sultry July evenings. He recognised their
low whispers. They were rejoicing, they were
telling him to come, and promising to restore Miette
to him beneath the earth, in some retreat which would
prove still more sequestered than this old trysting-place.
The cemetery, whose oppressive odours and dark vegetation
had breathed eager desire into the children’s
hearts, while alluringly spreading out its couches
of rank grass, without succeeding however in throwing
them into one another’s arms, now longed to
imbibe Silvere’s warm blood. For two summers
past it had been expecting the young lovers.
“Is it here?” asked the one-eyed man.
Silvere looked in front of him.
He had reached the end of the path. His eyes
fell on the tombstone, and he started. Miette
was right, that stone was for her. "Here lieth
. . . Marie . . . died . . . “ She was
dead, that slab had fallen over her. His strength
failing him, he leant against the frozen stone.
How warm it had been when they sat in that nook, chatting
for many a long evening! She had always come that
way, and the pressure of her foot, as she alighted
from the wall, had worn away the stone’s surface
in one corner. The mark seemed instinct with
something of her lissom figure. And to Silvere
it appeared as if some fatalism attached to all these
objects as if the stone were there precisely
in order that he might come to die beside it, there
where he had loved.
The one-eyed man cocked his pistols.
Death! death! the thought fascinated
Silvere. It was to this spot, then, that they
had led him, by the long white road which descends
from Sainte-Roure to Plassans. If he had known
it, he would have hastened on yet more quickly in
order to die on that stone, at the end of the narrow
path, in the atmosphere where he could still detect
the scent of Miette’s breath! Never had
he hoped for such consolation in his grief. Heaven
was merciful. He waited, a vague smile playing
on is face.
Mourgue, meantime, had caught sight
of the pistols. Hitherto he had allowed himself
to be dragged along stupidly. But fear now overcame
him, and he repeated, in a tone of despair: “I
come from Poujols I come from Poujols!”
Then he threw himself on the ground,
rolling at the gendarme’s feet, breaking out
into prayers for mercy, and imagining that he was being
mistaken for some one else.
“What does it matter to me that
you come from Poujols?” Rengade muttered.
And as the wretched man, shivering
and crying with terror, and quite unable to understand
why he was going to die, held out his trembling hands his
deformed, hard, labourer’s hands exclaiming
in his patois that he had done nothing and ought to
be pardoned, the one-eyed man grew quite exasperated
at being unable to put the pistol to his temple, owing
to his constant movements.
“Will you hold your tongue?” he shouted.
Thereupon Mourgue, mad with fright
and unwilling to die, began to howl like a beast like
a pig that is being slaughtered.
“Hold your tongue, you scoundrel!” the
And he blew his brains out. The
peasant fell with a thud. His body rolled to
the foot of a timber-stack, where it remained doubled
up. The violence of the shock had severed the
rope which fastened him to his companion. Silvere
fell on his knees before the tombstone.
It was to make his vengeance the more
terrible that Rengade had killed Mourgue first.
He played with his second pistol, raising it slowly
in order to relish Silvere’s agony. But
the latter looked at him quietly. Then again
the sight of this man, with the one fierce, scorching
eye, made him feel uneasy. He averted his glance,
fearing that he might die cowardly if he continued
to look at that feverishly quivering gendarme, with
blood-stained bandage and bleeding moustache.
However, as he raised his eyes to avoid him, he perceived
Justin’s head just above the wall, at the very
spot where Miette had been wont to leap over.
Justin had been at the Porte de Rome,
among the crowd, when the gendarme had led the prisoners
away. He had set off as fast as he could by way
of the Jas-Meiffren, in his eagerness to witness
the execution. The thought that he alone, of
all the Faubourg scamps, would view the tragedy at
his ease, as from a balcony, made him run so quickly
that he twice fell down. And in spite of his
wild chase, he arrived too late to witness the first
shot. He climbed the mulberry tree in despair;
but he smiled when he saw that Silvere still remained.
The soldiers had informed him of his cousin’s
death, and now the murder of the wheelwright brought
his happiness to a climax. He awaited the shot
with that delight which the sufferings of others always
afforded him a delight increased tenfold
by the horror of the scene, and a feeling of exquisite
Silvere, on recognising that vile
scamp’s head all by itself above the wall that
pale grinning face, with hair standing on end experienced
a feeling of fierce rage, a sudden desire to live.
It was the last revolt of his blood a momentary
mutiny. He again sank down on his knees, gazing
straight before him. A last vision passed before
his eyes in the melancholy twilight. At the end
of the path, at the entrance of the Impasse Saint-Mittre,
he fancied he could see aunt Dide standing erect,
white and rigid like the statue of a saint, while she
witnessed his agony from a distance.
At that moment he felt the cold pistol
on his temple. There was a smile on Justin’s
pale face. Closing his eyes, Silvere heard the
long-departed dead wildly summoning him. In the
darkness, he now saw nothing save Miette, wrapped
in the banner, under the trees, with her eyes turned
towards heaven. Then the one-eyed man fired, and
all was over; the lad’s skull burst open like
a ripe pomegranate; his face fell upon the stone,
with his lips pressed to the spot which Miette’s
feet had worn that warm spot which still
retained a trace of his dead love.
And in the evening at dessert, at
the Rougons’ abode, bursts of laughter arose
with the fumes from the table, which was still warm
with the remains of the dinner. At last the Rougons
were nibbling at the pleasures of the wealthy!
Their appetites, sharpened by thirty years of restrained
desire, now fell to with wolfish teeth. These
fierce, insatiate wild beasts, scarcely entering upon
indulgence, exulted at the birth of the Empire the
dawn of the Rush for the Spoils. The Coup d’Etat,
which retrieved the fortune of the Bonapartes, also
laid the foundation for that of the Rougons.
Pierre stood up, held out his glass,
and exclaimed: “I drink to Prince Louis to
The gentlemen, who had drowned their
jealousies in champagne, rose in a body and clinked
glasses with deafening shouts. It was a fine spectacle.
The bourgeois of Plassans, Roudier, Granoux, Vuillet,
and all the others, wept and embraced each other over
the corpse of the Republic, which as yet was scarcely
cold. But a splendid idea occurred to Sicardot.
He took from Felicite’s hair a pink satin bow,
which she had placed over her right ear in honour
of the occasion, cut off a strip of the satin with
his dessert knife, and then solemnly fastened it to
Rougon’s button-hole. The latter feigned
modesty, and pretended to resist. But his face
beamed with joy, as he murmured: “No, I
beg you, it is too soon. We must wait until the
decree is published.”
“Zounds!” Sicardot exclaimed,
“will you please keep that! It’s an
old soldier of Napoleon who decorates you!”
The whole company burst into applause.
Felicite almost swooned with delight. Silent
Granoux jumped up on a chair in his enthusiasm, waving
his napkin and making a speech which was lost amid
the uproar. The yellow drawing-room was wild
But the strip of pink satin fastened
to Pierre’s button-hole was not the only red
spot in that triumph of the Rougons. A shoe, with
a blood-stained heel, still lay forgotten under the
bedstead in the adjoining room. The taper burning
at Monsieur Peirotte’s bedside, over the way,
gleamed too with the lurid redness of a gaping wound
amidst the dark night. And yonder, far away,
in the depths of the Aire Saint-Mittre, a pool of
blood was congealing upon a tombstone.