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Before long the uncle and the nephew
saw each other two or three times a week. During their long discussions,
in which the fate of the country was flatly settled, Antoine endeavoured
to persuade the young man that the Rougons' drawing-room was the chief
obstacle to the welfare of France. But he again made a false move by
calling his mother "old jade" in Silvere's presence. He even repeated to
him the early scandals about the poor woman. The young man blushed for
shame, but listened without interruption. He had not asked his uncle
for this information; he felt heart-broken by such confidences, which
wounded his feeling of respectful affection for aunt Dide. From that
time forward he lavished yet more attention upon his grandmother,
greeting her always with pleasant smiles and looks of forgiveness.
However, Macquart felt that he had acted foolishly, and strove to take
advantage of Silvere's affection for Adelaide by charging the Rougons
with her forlornness and poverty. According to him, he had always been
the best of sons, whereas his brother had behaved disgracefully; Pierre
had robbed his mother, and now, when she was penniless, he was ashamed
of her. He never ceased descanting on this subject. Silvere thereupon
became indignant with his uncle Pierre, much to the satisfaction of his
uncle Antoine.

The scene was much the same every time the young man called. He used
to come in the evening, while the Macquarts were at dinner. The father
would be swallowing some potato stew with a growl, picking out the
pieces of bacon, and watching the dish when it passed into the hands of
Jean and Gervaise.

"You see, Silvere," he would say with a sullen rage which was
ill-concealed beneath his air of cynical indifference, "more potatoes,
always potatoes! We never eat anything else now. Meat is only for
rich people. It's getting quite impossible to make both ends meet with
children who have the devil's appetite and their own too."

Gervaise and Jean bent over their plates, no longer even daring to cut
some bread. Silvere, who in his dream lived in heaven, did not grasp the
situation. In a calm voice he pronounced these storm-laden words:

"But you should work, uncle."

"Ah! yes," sneered Macquart, stung to the quick. "You want me to work,
eh! To let those beggars, the rich folk, continue to prey upon me. I
should earn probably twenty sous a day, and ruin my constitution. It's
worth while, isn't it?"

"Everyone earns what he can," the young man replied. "Twenty sous are
twenty sous; and it all helps in a home. Besides, you're an old soldier,
why don't you seek some employment?"

Fine would then interpose, with a thoughtlessness of which she soon
repented.

"That's what I'm always telling him," said she. "The market inspector
wants an assistant; I mentioned my husband to him, and he seems well
disposed towards us."

But Macquart interrupted her with a fulminating glance. "Eh! hold
your tongue," he growled with suppressed anger. "Women never know
what they're talking about! Nobody would have me; my opinions are too
well-known."

Every time he was offered employment he displayed similar irritation. He
did not cease, however, to ask for situations, though he always refused
such as were found for him, assigning the most extraordinary reasons.
When pressed upon the point he became terrible.

If Jean were to take up a newspaper after dinner he would at once
exclaim: "You'd better go to bed. You'll be getting up late to-morrow,
and that'll be another day lost. To think of that young rascal coming
home with eight francs short last week! However, I've requested his
master not give him his money in future; I'll call for it myself."

Jean would go to bed to avoid his father's recriminations. He had but
little sympathy with Silvere; politics bored him, and he thought his
cousin "cracked." When only the women remained, if they unfortunately
started some whispered converse after clearing the table, Macquart would
cry: "Now, you idlers! Is there nothing that requires mending? we're
all in rags. Look here, Gervaise, I was at your mistress's to-day, and I
learnt some fine things. You're a good-for-nothing, a gad-about."

Gervaise, now a grown girl of more than twenty, coloured up at
thus being scolded in the presence of Silvere, who himself felt
uncomfortable. One evening, having come rather late, when his uncle was
not at home, he had found the mother and daughter intoxicated before
an empty bottle. From that time he could never see his cousin without
recalling the disgraceful spectacle she had presented, with the maudlin
grin and large red patches on her poor, pale, puny face. He was not
less shocked by the nasty stories that circulated with regard to her.
He sometimes looked at her stealthily, with the timid surprise of a
schoolboy in the presence of a disreputable character.

When the two women had taken up their needles, and were ruining their
eyesight in order to mend his old shirts, Macquart, taking the best
seat, would throw himself back with an air of delicious comfort, and sip
and smoke like a man who relishes his laziness. This was the time when
the old rogue generally railed against the wealthy for living on
the sweat of the poor man's brow. He was superbly indignant with the
gentlemen of the new town, who lived so idly, and compelled the poor
to keep them in luxury. The fragments of communistic notions which he
culled from the newspapers in the morning became grotesque and monstrous
on falling from his lips. He would talk of a time near at hand when
no one would be obliged to work. He always, however, kept his fiercest
animosity for the Rougons. He never could digest the potatoes he had
eaten.

"I saw that vile creature Felicite buying a chicken in the market this
morning," he would say. "Those robbers of inheritances must eat chicken,
forsooth!"

"Aunt Dide," interposed Silvere, "says that uncle Pierre was very kind
to you when you left the army. Didn't he spend a large sum of money in
lodging and clothing you?"

"A large sum of money!" roared Macquart in exasperation; "your
grandmother is mad. It was those thieves who spread those reports
themselves, so as to close my mouth. I never had anything."

Fine again foolishly interfered, reminding him that he had received two
hundred francs, besides a suit of clothes and a year's rent. Antoine
thereupon shouted to her to hold her tongue, and continued, with
increasing fury: "Two hundred francs! A fine thing! I want my due, ten
thousand francs. Ah! yes, talk of the hole they shoved me into like a
dog, and the old frock-coat which Pierre gave me because he was ashamed
to wear it any longer himself, it was so dirty and ragged!"

He was not speaking the truth; but, seeing the rage that he was in,
nobody ventured to protest any further. Then, turning towards Silvere:
"It's very stupid of you to defend them!" he added. "They robbed your
mother, who, good woman, would be alive now if she had had the means of
taking care of herself."

"Oh! you're not just, uncle," the young man said; "my mother did not
die for want of attention, and I'm certain my father would never have
accepted a sou from his wife's family!"

"Pooh! don't talk to me! your father would have taken the money just
like anybody else. We were disgracefully plundered, and it's high time
we had our rights."

Then Macquart, for the hundredth time, began to recount the story of
the fifty thousand francs. His nephew, who knew it by heart, and all
the variations with which he embellished it, listened to him rather
impatiently.

"If you were a man," Antoine would say in conclusion, "you would come
some day with me, and we would kick up a nice row at the Rougons. We
would not leave without having some money given us."

Silvere, however, grew serious, and frankly replied: "If those wretches
robbed us, so much the worse for them. I don't want their money. You
see, uncle, it's not for us to fall on our relatives. If they've done
wrong, well, one of these days they'll be severely punished for it."

"Ah! what a big simpleton you are!" the uncle cried. "When we have the
upper hand, you'll see whether I sha'n't settle my own little affairs
myself. God cares a lot about us indeed! What a foul family ours is!
Even if I were starving to death, not one of those scoundrels would
throw me a dry crust."

Whenever Macquart touched upon this subject, he proved inexhaustible. He
bared all his bleeding wounds of envy and covetousness. He grew mad
with rage when he came to think that he was the only unlucky one in the
family, and was forced to eat potatoes, while the others had meat to
their heart's content. He would pass all his relations in review, even
his grand-nephews, and find some grievance and reason for threatening
every one of them.

"Yes, yes," he repeated bitterly, "they'd leave me to die like a dog."

Gervaise, without raising her head or ceasing to ply her needle, would
sometimes say timidly: "Still, father, cousin Pascal was very kind to
us, last year, when you were ill."

"He attended you without charging a sou," continued Fine, coming to her
daughter's aid, "and he often slipped a five-franc piece into my hand to
make you some broth."

"He! he'd have killed me if I hadn't had a strong constitution!"
Macquart retorted. "Hold your tongues, you fools! You'd let yourselves
be twisted about like children. They'd all like to see me dead. When I'm
ill again, I beg you not to go and fetch my nephew, for I didn't feel at
all comfortable in his hands. He's only a twopenny-halfpenny doctor, and
hasn't got a decent patient in all his practice."

When once Macquart was fully launched, he could not stop. "It's like
that little viper, Aristide," he would say, "a false brother, a traitor.
Are you taken in by his articles in the 'Independant,' Silvere? You
would be a fine fool if you were. They're not even written in good
French; I've always maintained that this contraband Republican is in
league with his worthy father to humbug us. You'll see how he'll turn
his coat. And his brother, the illustrious Eugene, that big blockhead
of whom the Rougons make such a fuss!



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Keywords: nephew, cousin, little, robbed, you're, you'll, family, brother, presence, became
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