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They strongly approved his words, so the cartridges
were distributed in the dark. They completely filled their pockets with
them. Then, after they had loaded their guns, with endless precautions,
they lingered there for another moment, looking at each other with
suspicious eyes, or exchanging glances in which cowardly ferocity was
mingled with an expression of stupidity.

In the streets they kept close to the houses, marching silently and
in single file, like savages on the war-path. Rougon had insisted upon
having the honour of marching at their head; the time had come when he
must needs run some risk, if he wanted to see his schemes successful.
Drops of perspiration poured down his forehead in spite of the cold.
Nevertheless he preserved a very martial bearing. Roudier and Granoux
were immediately behind him. Upon two occasions the column came to an
abrupt halt. They fancied they had heard some distant sound of fighting;
but it was only the jingle of the little brass shaving-dishes hanging
from chains, which are used as signs by the barbers of Southern France.
These dishes were gently shaking to and fro in the breeze. After each
halt, the saviours of Plassans continued their stealthy march in the
dark, retaining the while the mien of terrified heroes. In this manner
they reached the square in front of the Town Hall. There they formed a
group round Rougon, and took counsel together once more. In the facade
of the building in front of them only one window was lighted. It was now
nearly seven o'clock and the dawn was approaching.

After a good ten minutes' discussion, it was decided to advance as
far as the door, so as to ascertain what might be the meaning of this
disquieting darkness and silence. The door proved to be half open. One
of the conspirators thereupon popped his head in, but quickly withdrew
it, announcing that there was a man under the porch, sitting against the
wall fast asleep, with a gun between his legs. Rougon, seeing a chance
of commencing with a deed of valour, thereupon entered first, and,
seizing the man, held him down while Roudier gagged him. This first
triumph, gained in silence, singularly emboldened the little troop, who
had dreamed of a murderous fusillade. And Rougon had to make imperious
signs to restrain his soldiers from indulging in over-boisterous
delight.

They continued their advance on tip-toes. Then, on the left, in the
police guard-room, which was situated there, they perceived some fifteen
men lying on camp-beds and snoring, amid the dim glimmer of a lantern
hanging from the wall. Rougon, who was decidedly becoming a great
general, left half of his men in front of the guard-room with orders not
to rouse the sleepers, but to watch them and make them prisoners if they
stirred. He was personally uneasy about the lighted window which they
had seen from the square. He still scented Macquart's hand in the
business, and, as he felt that he would first have to make prisoners of
those who were watching upstairs, he was not sorry to be able to adopt
surprise tactics before the noise of a conflict should impel them to
barricade themselves in the first-floor rooms. So he went up quietly,
followed by the twenty heroes whom he still had at his disposal. Roudier
commanded the detachment remaining in the courtyard.

As Rougon had surmised, it was Macquart who was comfortably installed
upstairs in the mayor's office. He sat in the mayor's arm-chair,
with his elbows on the mayor's writing-table. With the characteristic
confidence of a man of coarse intellect, who is absorbed by a fixed idea
and bent upon his own triumph, he had imagined after the departure of
the insurgents that Plassans was now at his complete disposal, and that
he would be able to act there like a conqueror. In his opinion that
body of three thousand men who had just passed through the town was
an invincible army, whose mere proximity would suffice to keep the
bourgeois humble and docile in his hands. The insurgents had imprisoned
the gendarmes in their barracks, the National Guard was already
dismembered, the nobility must be quaking with terror, and the retired
citizens of the new town had certainly never handled a gun in their
lives. Moreover, there were no arms any more than there were soldiers.
Thus Macquart did not even take the precaution to have the gates shut.
His men carried their confidence still further by falling asleep, while
he calmly awaited the dawn which he fancied would attract and rally all
the Republicans of the district round him.

He was already meditating important revolutionary measures; the
nomination of a Commune of which he would be the chief, the imprisonment
of all bad patriots, and particularly of all such persons as had
incurred his displeasure. The thought of the baffled Rougons and their
yellow drawing-room, of all that clique entreating him for mercy,
thrilled him with exquisite pleasure. In order to while away the time he
resolved to issue a proclamation to the inhabitants of Plassans. Four
of his party set to work to draw up this proclamation, and when it was
finished Macquart, assuming a dignified manner in the mayor's arm-chair,
had it read to him before sending it to the printing office of the
"Independant," on whose patriotism he reckoned. One of the writers was
commencing, in an emphatic voice, "Inhabitants of Plassans, the hour
of independence has struck, the reign of justice has begun----" when a
noise was heard at the door of the office, which was slowly pushed open.

"Is it you, Cassoute?" Macquart asked, interrupting the perusal.

Nobody answered; but the door opened wider.

"Come in, do!" he continued, impatiently. "Is my brigand of a brother at
home?"

Then, all at once both leaves of the door were violently thrown back
and slammed against the walls, and a crowd of armed men, in the midst of
whom marched Rougon, with his face very red and his eyes starting out
of their sockets, swarmed into the office, brandishing their guns like
cudgels.

"Ah! the blackguards, they're armed!" shouted Macquart.

He was about to seize a pair of pistols which were lying on the
writing-table, when five men caught hold of him by the throat and held
him in check. The four authors of the proclamation struggled for an
instant. There was a good deal of scuffling and stamping, and a noise
of persons falling. The combatants were greatly hampered by their guns,
which they would not lay aside, although they could not use them. In the
struggle, Rougon's weapon, which an insurgent had tried to wrest from
him, went off of itself with a frightful report, and filled the room
with smoke. The bullet shattered a magnificent mirror that reached from
the mantelpiece to the ceiling, and was reputed to be one of the
finest mirrors in the town. This shot, fired no one knew why, deafened
everybody, and put an end to the battle.

Then, while the gentlemen were panting and puffing, three other reports
were heard in the courtyard. Granoux immediately rushed to one of the
windows. And as he and the others anxiously leaned out, their faces
lengthened perceptibly, for they were in nowise eager for a struggle
with the men in the guard-room, whom they had forgotten amidst their
triumph. However, Roudier cried out from below that all was right. And
Granoux then shut the window again, beaming with joy. The fact of
the matter was, that Rougon's shot had aroused the sleepers, who had
promptly surrendered, seeing that resistance was impossible. Then,
however, three of Roudier's men, in their blind haste to get the
business over, had discharged their firearms in the air, as a sort of
answer to the report from above, without knowing quite why they did so.
It frequently happens that guns go off of their own accord when they are
in the hands of cowards.

And now, in the room upstairs, Rougon ordered Macquart's hands to be
bound with the bands of the large green curtains which hung at the
windows. At this, Macquart, wild with rage, broke into scornful jeers.
"All right; go on," he muttered. "This evening or to-morrow, when the
others return, we'll settle accounts!"

This allusion to the insurrectionary forces sent a shudder to the
victors' very marrow; Rougon for his part almost choked. His brother,
who was exasperated at having been surprised like a child by these
terrified bourgeois, who, old soldier that he was, he disdainfully
looked upon as good-for-nothing civilians, defied him with a glance of
the bitterest hatred.

"Ah! I can tell some pretty stories about you, very pretty ones!"
the rascal exclaimed, without removing his eyes from the retired oil
merchant. "Just send me before the Assize Court, so that I may tell the
judge a few tales that will make them laugh."

At this Rougon turned pale. He was terribly afraid lest Macquart should
blab then and there, and ruin him in the esteem of the gentlemen who had
just been assisting him to save Plassans. These gentlemen, astounded by
the dramatic encounter between the two brothers, and, foreseeing some
stormy passages, had retired to a corner of the room. Rougon, however,
formed a heroic resolution. He advanced towards the group, and in a very
proud tone exclaimed: "We will keep this man here. When he has reflected
on his position he will be able to give us some useful information."
Then, in a still more dignified voice, he went on: "I will discharge my
duty, gentlemen. I have sworn to save the town from anarchy, and I
will save it, even should I have to be the executioner of my nearest
relative."

One might have thought him some old Roman sacrificing his family on the
altar of his country. Granoux, who felt deeply moved, came to press his
hand with a tearful countenance, which seemed to say: "I understand you;
you are sublime!" And then he did him the kindness to take everybody
away, under the pretext of conducting the four other prisoners into the
courtyard.

When Pierre was alone with his brother, he felt all his self-possession
return to him. "You hardly expected me, did you?" he resumed. "I
understand things now; you have been laying plots against me.



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Keywords: upstairs, however, window, should, before, retired, guard-room, continued, prisoners, against
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