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But he was of a prudent nature, and
comprehended the futility of a struggle on finding only a few pale men,
who were scarcely awake, around him. So the deliberations did not last
long. Sicardot alone was obstinate; he wanted to fight, asserting that
twenty men would suffice to bring these three thousand villains to
reason. At this Monsieur Garconnet shrugged his shoulders, and declared
that the only step to take was to make an honourable capitulation. As
the uproar of the mob increased, he went out on the balcony, followed
by all the persons present. Silence was gradually obtained. Below, among
the black, quivering mass of insurgents, the guns and scythes glittered
in the moonlight.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" cried the mayor in a loud voice.

Thereupon a man in a greatcoat, a landowner of La Palud, stepped
forward.

"Open the doors," he said, without replying to Monsieur Garconnet's
question. "Avoid a fratricidal conflict."

"I call upon you to withdraw," the mayor continued. "I protest in the
name of the law."

These words provoked deafening shouts from the crowd. When the tumult
had somewhat abated, vehement calls ascended to the balcony. Voices
shouted: "It is in the name of the law that we have come here!"

"Your duty as a functionary is to secure respect for the fundamental
law of the land, the constitution, which has just been outrageously
violated."

"Long live the constitution! Long live the Republic!"

Then as Monsieur Garconnet endeavoured to make himself heard, and
continued to invoke his official dignity, the land-owner of La
Palud, who was standing under the balcony, interrupted him with
great vehemence: "You are now nothing but the functionary of a fallen
functionary; we have come to dismiss you from your office."

Hitherto, Commander Sicardot had been ragefully biting his moustache,
and muttering insulting words. The sight of the cudgels and scythes
exasperated him; and he made desperate efforts to restrain himself
from treating these twopenny-halfpenny soldiers, who had not even a
gun apiece, as they deserved. But when he heard a gentleman in a mere
greatcoat speak of deposing a mayor girded with his scarf, he could no
longer contain himself and shouted: "You pack of rascals! If I only had
four men and a corporal, I'd come down and pull your ears for you, and
make you behave yourselves!"

Less than this was needed to raise a serious disturbance. A long shout
rose from the mob as it made a rush for the doors. Monsieur Garconnet,
in consternation, hastily quitted the balcony, entreating Sicardot to be
reasonable unless he wished to have them massacred. But in two minutes
the doors gave way, the people invaded the building and disarmed the
national guards. The mayor and the other functionaries present were
arrested. Sicardot, who declined to surrender his sword, had to
be protected from the fury of some insurgents by the chief of the
contingent from Les Tulettes, a man of great self-possession. When the
town-hall was in the hands of the Republicans, they led their prisoners
to a small cafe in the market-place, and there kept them closely
watched.

The insurrectionary army would have avoided marching through Plassans
if its leaders had not decided that a little food and a few hours' rest
were absolutely necessary for the men. Instead of pushing forward
direct to the chief town of the department, the column, owing to the
inexcusable weakness and the inexperience of the improvised general who
commanded it, was now diverging to the left, making a detour which was
destined, ultimately, to lead it to destruction. It was bound for the
heights of Sainte-Roure, still about ten leagues distant, and it was
in view of this long march that it had been decided to pass through
Plassans, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour. It was now half-past
eleven.

When Monsieur Garconnet learnt that the band was in quest of provisions,
he offered his services to procure them. This functionary formed, under
very difficult circumstances, a proper estimate of the situation. Those
three thousand starving men would have to be satisfied; it would never
do for Plassans, on waking up, to find them still squatting on the
pavements; if they withdrew before daybreak they would simply have
passed through the slumbering town like an evil dream, like one of those
nightmares which depart with the arrival of dawn. And so, although he
remained a prisoner, Monsieur Garconnet, followed by two guards, went
about knocking at the bakers' doors, and had all the provisions that he
could find distributed among the insurgents.

Towards one o'clock the three thousand men began to eat, squatting on
the ground, with their weapons between their legs. The market-place
and the neighbourhood of the town-hall were turned into vast open-air
refectories. In spite of the bitter cold, humorous sallies were
exchanged among the swarming multitude, the smallest groups of which
showed forth in the brilliant moonlight. The poor famished fellows
eagerly devoured their portions while breathing on their fingers to warm
them; and, from the depths of adjoining streets, where vague black forms
sat on the white thresholds of the houses, there came sudden bursts
of laughter. At the windows emboldened, inquisitive women, with silk
handkerchiefs tied round their heads, watched the repast of those
terrible insurgents, those blood-suckers who went in turn to the market
pump to drink a little water in the hollows of their hands.

While the town-hall was being invaded, the gendarmes' barracks, situated
a few steps away, in the Rue Canquoin, which leads to the market, had
also fallen into the hands of the mob. The gendarmes were surprised in
their beds and disarmed in a few minutes. The impetus of the crowd had
carried Miette and Silvere along in this direction. The girl, who still
clasped her flagstaff to her breast, was pushed against the wall of
the barracks, while the young man, carried away by the human wave,
penetrated into the interior, and helped his comrades to wrest from the
gendarmes the carbines which they had hastily caught up. Silvere, waxing
ferocious, intoxicated by the onslaught, attacked a big devil of a
gendarme named Rengade, with whom for a few moments he struggled. At
last, by a sudden jerk, he succeeded in wresting his carbine from him.
But the barrel struck Rengade a violent blow in the face, which put his
right eye out. Blood flowed, and, some of it splashing Silvere's hands,
quickly brought him to his senses. He looked at his hands, dropped the
carbine, and ran out, in a state of frenzy, shaking his fingers.

"You are wounded!" cried Miette.

"No, no," he replied in a stifled voice, "I've just killed a gendarme."

"Is he really dead?" asked Miette.

"I don't know," replied Silvere, "his face was all covered with blood.
Come quickly."

Then he hurried the girl away. On reaching the market, he made her sit
down on a stone bench, and told her to wait there for him. He was still
looking at his hands, muttering something at the same time. Miette at
last understood from his disquieted words that he wished to go and kiss
his grandmother before leaving.

"Well, go," she said; "don't trouble yourself about me. Wash your
hands."

But he went quickly away, keeping his fingers apart, without thinking
of washing them at the pump which he passed. Since he had felt Rengade's
warm blood on his skin, he had been possessed by one idea, that of
running to Aunt Dide's and dipping his hands in the well-trough at the
back of the little yard. There only, he thought, would he be able
to wash off the stain of that blood. Moreover, all his calm, gentle
childhood seemed to return to him; he felt an irresistible longing
to take refuge in his grandmother's skirts, if only for a minute.
He arrived quite out of breath. Aunt Dide had not gone to bed, a
circumstance which at any other time would have greatly surprised
Silvere. But on entering he did not even see his uncle Rougon, who was
seated in a corner on the old chest. He did not wait for the poor old
woman's questions. "Grandmother," he said quickly, "you must forgive
me; I'm going to leave with the others. You see I've got blood on me. I
believe I've killed a gendarme."

"You've killed a gendarme?" Aunt Dide repeated in a strange voice.

Her eyes gleamed brightly as she fixed them on the red stains. And
suddenly she turned towards the chimney-piece. "You've taken the gun,"
she said; "where's the gun?"

Silvere, who had left the weapon with Miette, swore to her that it was
quite safe. And for the very first time, Adelaide made an allusion to
the smuggler Macquart in her grandson's presence.

"You'll bring the gun back? You promise me!" she said with singular
energy. "It's all I have left of him. You've killed a gendarme; ah, it
was the gendarmes who killed him!"

She continued gazing fixedly at Silvere with an air of cruel
satisfaction, and apparently without thought of detaining him. She never
asked him for any explanation, nor wept like those good grandmothers who
always imagine, at sight of the least scratch, that their grandchildren
are dying. All her nature was concentrated in one unique thought, to
which she at last gave expression with ardent curiosity: "Did you kill
the gendarme with the gun?"

Either Silvere did not quite catch what she said, or else he
misunderstood her.

"Yes!" he replied. "I'm going to wash my hands."

It was only on returning from the well that he perceived his uncle.
Pierre had turned pale on hearing the young man's words. Felicite was
indeed right; his family took a pleasure in compromising him. One of
his nephews had now killed a gendarme! He would never get the post
of receiver of taxes, if he did not prevent this foolish madman from
rejoining the insurgents. So he planted himself in front of the door,
determined to prevent Silvere from going out.

"Listen," he said to the young fellow, who was greatly surprised to find
him there. "I am the head of the family, and I forbid you to leave this
house. You're risking both your honour and ours.



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Keywords: without, turned, you've, replied, continued, thought, thousand, plassans, fingers, gendarmes
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