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"He jammed his
four fingers in a door as he was coming in. In spite of his sufferings,
he has dictated this little note, which he begs you to publish
to-morrow."

On the following day the "Independant," made up almost entirely of
miscellaneous items of news, appeared with these few lines at the head
of the first column:

"A deplorable accident which has occurred to our eminent contributor
Monsieur Aristide Rougon will deprive us of his articles for some
time. He will suffer at having to remain silent in the present grave
circumstances. None of our readers will doubt, however, the good wishes
which he offers up with patriotic feelings for the welfare of France."

This burlesque note had been maturely studied. The last sentence might
be interpreted in favour of all parties. By this expedient, Aristide
devised a glorious return for himself on the morrow of battle, in the
shape of a laudatory article on the victors. On the following day he
showed himself to the whole town, with his arm in a sling. His mother,
frightened by the notice in the paper, hastily called upon him, but
he refused to show her his hand, and spoke with a bitterness which
enlightened the old woman.

"It won't be anything," she said in a reassuring and somewhat sarcastic
tone, as she was leaving. "You only want a little rest."

It was no doubt owing to this pretended accident, and the sub-prefect's
departure, that the "Independant" was not interfered with, like most of
the democratic papers of the departments.

The 4th day of the month proved comparatively quiet at Plassans. In the
evening there was a public demonstration which the mere appearance
of the gendarmes sufficed to disperse. A band of working-men came to
request Monsieur Garconnet to communicate the despatches he had received
from Paris, which the latter haughtily refused to do; as it retired
the band shouted: "Long live the Republic! Long live the Constitution!"
After this, order was restored. The yellow drawing-room, after
commenting at some length on this innocent parade, concluded that
affairs were going on excellently.

The 5th and 6th were, however, more disquieting. Intelligence was
received of successive risings in small neighbouring towns; the
whole southern part of the department had taken up arms; La Palud and
Saint-Martin-de-Vaulx had been the first to rise, drawing after them
the villages of Chavanos, Nazeres, Poujols, Valqueyras and Vernoux. The
yellow drawing-room party was now becoming seriously alarmed. It felt
particularly uneasy at seeing Plassans isolated in the very midst of the
revolt. Bands of insurgents would certainly scour the country and cut
off all communications. Granoux announced, with a terrified look, that
the mayor was without any news. Some people even asserted that blood had
been shed at Marseilles, and that a formidable revolution had broken out
in Paris. Commander Sicardot, enraged at the cowardice of the bourgeois,
vowed he would die at the head of his men.

On Sunday the 7th the terror reached a climax. Already at six o'clock
the yellow drawing-room, where a sort of reactionary committee sat _en
permanence_, was crowded with pale, trembling men, who conversed in
undertones, as though they were in a chamber of death. It had been
ascertained during the day that a column of insurgents, about three
thousand strong, had assembled at Alboise, a big village not more than
three leagues away. It was true that this column had been ordered to
make for the chief town of the department, leaving Plassans on its left;
but the plan of campaign might at any time be altered; moreover, it
sufficed for these cowardly cits to know that there were insurgents a
few miles off, to make them feel the horny hands of the toilers already
tightened round their throats. They had had a foretaste of the revolt in
the morning; the few Republicans at Plassans, seeing that they would
be unable to make any determined move in the town, had resolved to join
their brethren of La Palud and Saint-Martin-de-Vaulx; the first group
had left at about eleven o'clock, by the Porte de Rome, shouting the
"Marseillaise" and smashing a few windows. Granoux had had one broken.
He mentioned the circumstance with stammerings of terror.

Meantime, the most acute anxiety agitated the yellow drawing-room. The
commander had sent his servant to obtain some information as to the
exact movements of the insurgents, and the others awaited this man's
return, making the most astonishing surmises. They had a full meeting.
Roudier and Granoux, sinking back in their arm-chairs, exchanged the
most pitiable glances, whilst behind them moaned a terror-stricken group
of retired tradesmen. Vuillet, without appearing over scared, reflected
upon what precautions he should take to protect his shop and person; he
was in doubt whether he should hide himself in his garret or cellar,
and inclined towards the latter. For their part Pierre and the commander
walked up and down, exchanging a word ever and anon. The old oil-dealer
clung to this friend Sicardot as if to borrow a little courage from
him. He, who had been awaiting the crisis for such a long time, now
endeavoured to keep his countenance, in spite of the emotion which was
stifling him. As for the marquis, more spruce and smiling than usual, he
conversed in a corner with Felicite, who seemed very gay.

At last a ring came. The gentlemen started as if they had heard a
gun-shot. Dead silence reigned in the drawing-room when Felicite went to
open the door, towards which their pale, anxious faces were turned. Then
the commander's servant appeared on the threshold, quite out of breath,
and said abruptly to his master: "Sir, the insurgents will be here in an
hour."

This was a thunderbolt. They all started up, vociferating, and raising
their arms towards the ceiling. For several minutes it was impossible
to hear one's self speak. The company surrounded the messenger,
overwhelming him with questions.

"Damnation!" the commander at length shouted, "don't make such a row. Be
calm, or I won't answer for anything."

Everyone sank back in his chair again, heaving long-drawn sighs. They
then obtained a few particulars. The messenger had met the column at Les
Tulettes, and had hastened to return.

"There are at least three thousand of them," said he. "They are marching
in battalions, like soldiers. I thought I caught sight of some prisoners
in their midst."

"Prisoners!" cried the terrified bourgeois.

"No doubt," the marquis interrupted in his shrill voice. "I've
heard that the insurgents arrest all persons who are known to have
conservative leanings."

This information gave a finishing touch to the consternation of the
yellow drawing-room. A few bourgeois got up and stealthily made for the
door, reflecting that they had not too much time before them to gain a
place of safety.

The announcement of the arrests made by the Republicans appeared to
strike Felicite. She took the marquis aside and asked him: "What do
these men do with the people they arrest?"

"Why, they carry them off in their train," Monsieur de Carnavant
replied. "They no doubt consider them excellent hostages."

"Ah!" the old woman rejoined, in a strange tone.

Then she again thoughtfully watched the curious scene of panic around
her. The bourgeois gradually disappeared; soon there only remained
Vuillet and Roudier, whom the approaching danger inspired with some
courage. As for Granoux, he likewise remained in his corner, his legs
refusing to perform their office.

"Well, I like this better," Sicardot remarked, as he observed the flight
of the other adherents. "Those cowards were exasperating me at last.
For more than two years they've been speaking of shooting all the
Republicans in the province, and to-day they wouldn't even fire a
halfpenny cracker under their noses."

Then he took up his hat and turned towards the door.

"Let's see," he continued, "time presses. Come, Rougon."

Felicite, it seemed, had been waiting for this moment. She placed
herself between the door and her husband, who, for that matter, was not
particularly eager to follow the formidable Sicardot.

"I won't have you go out," she cried, feigning sudden despair. "I won't
let you leave my side. Those scoundrels will kill you."

The commander stopped in amazement.

"Hang it all!" he growled, "if the women are going to whine now--Come
along, Rougon!'

"No, no," continued the old woman, affecting increase of terror, "he
sha'n't follow you. I will hang on to his clothes and prevent him."

The marquis, very much surprised at the scene, looked inquiringly at
Felicite. Was this really the woman who had just now been conversing so
merrily? What comedy was she playing? Pierre, meantime, seeing that his
wife wanted to detain him, deigned a determination to force his way out.

"I tell you you shall not go," the old woman reiterated, as she clung
to one of his arms. And turning towards the commander, she said to him:
"How can you think of offering any resistance? They are three thousand
strong, and you won't be able to collect a hundred men of any spirit.
You are rushing into the cannon's mouth to no purpose."

"Eh! that is our duty," said Sicardot, impatiently.

Felicite burst into sobs.

"If they don't kill him, they'll make him a prisoner," she continued,
looked fixedly at her husband. "Good heavens! What will become of me,
left alone in an abandoned town?"

"But," exclaimed the commander, "we shall be arrested just the same if
we allow the insurgents to enter the town unmolested. I believe that
before an hour has elapsed the mayor and all the functionaries will be
prisoners, to say nothing of your husband and the frequenters of this
drawing-room."

The marquis thought he saw a vague smile play about Felicite's lips as
she answered, with a look of dismay: "Do you really think so?"

"Of course!" replied Sicardot; "the Republicans are not so stupid as
to leave enemies behind them. To-morrow Plassans will be emptied of its
functionaries and good citizens."

At these words, which she had so cleverly provoked, Felicite released
her husband's arms.



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Keywords: return, himself, thousand, seeing, terror, prisoners, husband, continued, rougon, monsieur
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