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The prisoners!" But
the troops did not hear; they continued firing. All at once Commander
Sicardot, growing exasperated, appeared at the door, waved his arms, and
endeavoured to speak. Monsieur Peirotte, the receiver of taxes, with his
slim figure and scared face, stood by his side. However, another volley
was fired, and Monsieur Peirotte fell face foremost, with a heavy thud,
to the ground.

Silvere and Miette were still looking at each other. Silvere had
remained by the corpse, through all the fusillade and the howls of
agony, without even turning his head. He was only conscious of the
presence of some men around him, and, from a feeling of modesty, he drew
the red banner over Miette's breast. Then their eyes still continued to
gaze at one another.

The conflict, however, was at an end. The death of the receiver of
taxes had satiated the soldiers. Some of these ran about, scouring every
corner of the esplanade, to prevent the escape of a single insurgent.
A gendarme who perceived Silvere under the trees, ran up to him, and
seeing that it was a lad he had to deal with, called: "What are you
doing there, youngster?"

Silvere, whose eyes were still fixed on those of Miette, made no reply.

"Ah! the bandit, his hands are black with powder," the gendarme
exclaimed, as he stooped down. "Come, get up, you scoundrel! You know
what you've got to expect."

Then, as Silvere only smiled vaguely and did not move, the other looked
more attentively, and saw that the corpse swathed in the banner was that
of a girl.

"A fine girl; what a pity!" he muttered. "Your mistress, eh? you
rascal!"

Then he made a violent grab at Silvere, and setting him on his feet led
him away like a dog that is dragged by one leg. Silvere submitted in
silence, as quietly as a child. He just turned round to give another
glance at Miette. He felt distressed at thus leaving her alone under the
trees. For the last time he looked at her from afar. She was still lying
there in all her purity, wrapped in the red banner, her head slightly
raised, and her big eyes turned upward towards heaven.



CHAPTER VI

It was about five o'clock in the morning when Rougon at last ventured to
leave his mother's house. The old woman had gone to sleep on a chair. He
crept stealthily to the end of the Impasse Saint-Mittre. There was not a
sound, not a shadow. He pushed on as far as the Porte de Rome. The gates
stood wide open in the darkness that enveloped the slumbering town.
Plassans was sleeping as sound as a top, quite unconscious, apparently,
of the risk it was running in allowing the gates to remain unsecured.
It seemed like a city of the dead. Rougon, taking courage, made his way
into the Rue de Nice. He scanned from a distance the corners of each
successive lane; and trembled at every door, fearing lest he should see
a band of insurgents rush out upon him. However, he reached the Cours
Sauvaire without any mishap. The insurgents seemed to have vanished in
the darkness like a nightmare.

Pierre then paused for a moment on the deserted pavement, heaving a
deep sigh of relief and triumph. So those rascals had really abandoned
Plassans to him. The town belonged to him now; it slept like the foolish
thing it was; there it lay, dark and tranquil, silent and confident, and
he had only to stretch out his hand to take possession of it. That
brief halt, the supercilious glance which he cast over the drowsy place,
thrilled him with unspeakable delight. He remained there, alone in the
darkness, and crossed his arms, in the attitude of a great general on
the eve of a victory. He could hear nothing in the distance but the
murmur of the fountains of the Cours Sauvaire, whose jets of water fell
into the basins with a musical plashing.

Then he began to feel a little uneasy. What if the Empire should
unhappily have been established without his aid? What if Sicardot,
Garconnet, and Peirotte, instead of being arrested and led away by
the insurrectionary band, had shut the rebels up in prison? A cold
perspiration broke out over him, and he went on his way again, hoping
that Felicite would give him some accurate information. He now pushed on
more rapidly, and was skirting the houses of the Rue de la Banne, when a
strange spectacle, which caught his eyes as he raised his head, riveted
him to the ground. One of the windows of the yellow drawing-room was
brilliantly illuminated, and, in the glare, he saw a dark form, which he
recognized as that of his wife, bending forward, and shaking its arms in
a violent manner. He asked himself what this could mean, but, unable to
think of any explanation, was beginning to feel seriously alarmed, when
some hard object bounded over the pavement at his feet. Felicite had
thrown him the key of the cart-house, where he had concealed a supply
of muskets. This key clearly signified that he must take up arms. So he
turned away again, unable to comprehend why his wife had prevented him
from going upstairs, and imagining the most horrible things.

He now went straight to Roudier, whom he found dressed and ready to
march, but completely ignorant of the events of the night. Roudier lived
at the far end of the new town, as in a desert, whither no tidings of
the insurgents' movements had penetrated. Pierre, however, proposed
to him that they should go to Granoux, whose house stood on one of
the corners of the Place des Recollets, and under whose windows the
insurgent contingents must have passed. The municipal councillor's
servant remained for a long time parleying before consenting to admit
them, and they heard poor Granoux calling from the first floor in a
trembling voice:

"Don't open the door, Catherine! The streets are full of bandits."

He was in his bedroom, in the dark. When he recognised his two faithful
friends he felt relieved; but he would not let the maid bring a lamp,
fearing lest the light might attract a bullet. He seemed to think that
the town was still full of insurgents. Lying back on an arm-chair near
the window, in his pants, and with a silk handkerchief round his head,
he moaned: "Ah! my friends, if you only knew!--I tried to go to bed, but
they were making such a disturbance! At last I lay down in my arm-chair
here. I've seen it all, everything. Such awful-looking men; a band of
escaped convicts! Then they passed by again, dragging brave Commander
Sicardot, worthy Monsieur Garconnet, the postmaster, and others away
with them, and howling the while like cannibals!"

Rougon felt a thrill of joy. He made Granoux repeat to him how he had
seen the mayor and the others surrounded by the "brigands."

"I saw it all!" the poor man wailed. "I was standing behind the blind.
They had just seized Monsieur Peirotte, and I heard him saying as he
passed under my window: 'Gentlemen, don't hurt me!' They were certainly
maltreating him. It's abominable, abominable."

However, Roudier calmed Granoux by assuring him that the town was free.
And the worthy gentleman began to feel quite a glow of martial ardour
when Pierre informed him that he had come to recruit his services for
the purpose of saving Plassans. These three saviours then took council
together. They each resolved to go and rouse their friends, and appoint
a meeting at the cart-shed, the secret arsenal of the reactionary
party. Meantime Rougon constantly bethought himself of Felicite's wild
gestures, which seemed to betoken danger somewhere. Granoux, assuredly
the most foolish of the three, was the first to suggest that there must
be some Republicans left in the town. This proved a flash of light,
and Rougon, with a feeling of conviction, reflected: "There must be
something of Macquart's doing under all this."

An hour or so later the friends met again in the cart-shed, which was
situated in a very lonely spot. They had glided stealthily from door to
door, knocking and ringing as quietly as possible, and picking up all
the men they could. However, they had only succeeded in collecting some
forty, who arrived one after the other, creeping along in the dark, with
the pale and drowsy countenances of men who had been violently startled
from their sleep. The cart-shed, let to a cooper, was littered with old
hoops and broken casks, of which there were piles in every corner. The
guns were stored in the middle, in three long boxes. A taper, stuck on
a piece of wood, illumined the strange scene with a flickering glimmer.
When Rougon had removed the covers of the three boxes, the spectacle
became weirdly grotesque. Above the fire-arms, whose barrels shown with
a bluish, phosphorescent glitter, were outstretched necks and heads that
bent with a sort of secret fear, while the yellow light of the taper
cast shadows of huge noses and locks of stiffened hair upon the walls.

However, the reactionary forces counted their numbers, and the smallness
of the total filled them with hesitation. They were only thirty-nine all
told, and this adventure would mean certain death for them. A father
of a family spoke of his children; others, without troubling themselves
about excuses, turned towards the door. Then, however, two fresh
conspirators arrived, who lived in the neighbourhood of the Town
Hall, and knew for certain that there were not more than about twenty
Republicans still at the mayor's. The band thereupon deliberated afresh.
Forty-one against twenty--these seemed practicable conditions. So the
arms were distributed amid a little trembling. It was Rougon who took
them from the boxes, and each man present, as he received his gun, the
barrel of which on that December night was icy cold, felt a sudden chill
freeze him to his bones. The shadows on the walls assumed the clumsy
postures of bewildered conscripts stretching out their fingers. Pierre
closed the boxes regretfully; he left there a hundred and nine guns
which he would willingly have distributed; however, he now had to divide
the cartridges. Of these, there were two large barrels full in the
furthest corner of the cart-shed, sufficient to defend Plassans against
an army. And as this corner was dark, one of the gentlemen brought the
taper near, whereupon another conspirator--a burly pork-butcher, with
immense fists--grew angry, declaring that it was most imprudent to bring
a light so close.



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Keywords: insurgents, sicardot, should, others, darkness, remained, miette, passed, roudier, banner
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