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At every moment, in the centre of the town, people
fancied they could hear a discharge of musketry in the Faubourgs. They
no longer received any news; they were, so to say, at the bottom of
a cellar, in a walled hole, where they were anxiously awaiting
either deliverance or the finishing stroke. For the last two days
the insurgents, who were scouring the country, had cut off all
communication. Plassans found itself isolated from the rest of France.
It felt that it was surrounded by a region in open rebellion, where the
tocsin was ever ringing and the "Marseillaise" was ever roaring like
a river that has overflowed its banks. Abandoned to its fate and
shuddering with alarm the town lay there like some prey which would
prove the reward of the victorious party. The strollers on the Cours
Sauvaire were ever swaying between fear and hope according as they
fancied that they could see the blouses of insurgents or the uniforms
of soldiers at the Grand'-Porte. Never had sub-prefecture, pent within
tumble-down walls, endured more agonising torture.

Towards two o'clock it was rumoured that the Coup d'Etat had failed,
that the prince-president was imprisoned at Vincennes, and that Paris
was in the hands of the most advanced demagogues. It was reported also
that Marseilles, Toulon, Draguignan, the entire South, belonged to the
victorious insurrectionary army. The insurgents would arrive in the
evening and put Plassans to the sword.

Thereupon a deputation repaired to the town-hall to expostulate with
the Municipal Commission for closing the gates, whereby they would only
irritate the insurgents. Rougon, who was losing his head, defended his
order with all his remaining strength. This locking of the gates seemed
to him one of the most ingenious acts of his administration; he advanced
the most convincing arguments in its justification. But the others
embarrassed him by their questions, asking him where were the soldiers,
the regiment that he had promised. Then he began to lie, and told them
flatly that he had promised nothing at all. The non-appearance of this
legendary regiment, which the inhabitants longed for with such eagerness
that they had actually dreamt of its arrival, was the chief cause of the
panic. Well-informed people even named the exact spot on the high road
where the soldiers had been butchered.

At four o'clock Rougon, followed by Granoux, again repaired to the
Valqueyras mansion. Small bands, on their way to join the insurgents at
Orcheres, still passed along in the distance, through the valley of the
Viorne. Throughout the day urchins climbed the ramparts, and bourgeois
came to peep through the loopholes. These volunteer sentinels kept up
the terror by counting the various bands, which were taken for so many
strong battalions. The timorous population fancied it could see from the
battlements the preparations for some universal massacre. At dusk, as on
the previous evening, the panic became yet more chilling.

On returning to the municipal offices Rougon and his inseparable
companion, Granoux, recognised that the situation was growing
intolerable. During their absence another member of the Commission had
disappeared. They were only four now, and they felt they were making
themselves ridiculous by staying there for hours, looking at each
other's pale countenances, and never saying a word. Moreover, they were
terribly afraid of having to spend a second night on the terrace of the
Valqueyras mansion.

Rougon gravely declared that as the situation of affairs was unchanged,
there was no need for them to continue to remain there _en permanence_.
If anything serious should occur information would be sent to them. And,
by a decision duly taken in council, he deputed to Roudier the carrying
on of the administration. Poor Roudier, who remembered that he had
served as a national guard in Paris under Louis-Philippe, was meantime
conscientiously keeping watch at the Grand'-Porte.

Rougon went home looking very downcast, and creeping along under the
shadows of the houses. He felt that Plassans was becoming hostile
to him. He heard his name bandied about amongst the groups, with
expressions of anger and contempt. He walked upstairs, reeling and
perspiring. Felicite received him with speechless consternation. She,
also, was beginning to despair. Their dreams were being completely
shattered. They stood silent, face to face, in the yellow drawing-room.
The day was drawing to a close, a murky winter day which imparted a
muddy tint to the orange-coloured wall-paper with its large flower
pattern; never had the room looked more faded, more mean, more shabby.
And at this hour they were alone; they no longer had a crowd of
courtiers congratulating them, as on the previous evening. A single
day had sufficed to topple them over, at the very moment when they were
singing victory. If the situation did not change on the morrow their
game would be lost.

Felicite who, when gazing on the previous evening at the ruins of
the yellow drawing-room, had thought of the plains of Austerlitz, now
recalled the accursed field of Waterloo as she observed how mournful
and deserted the place was. Then, as her husband said nothing, she
mechanically went to the window--that window where she had inhaled with
delight the incense of the entire town. She perceived numerous groups
below on the square, but she closed the blinds upon seeing some heads
turn towards their house, for she feared that she might be hooted. She
felt quite sure that those people were speaking about them.

Indeed, voices rose through the twilight. A lawyer was clamouring in the
tone of a triumphant pleader. "That's just what I said; the insurgents
left of their own accord, and they won't ask the permission of the
forty-one to come back. The forty-one indeed! a fine farce! Why, I
believe there were at least two hundred."

"No, indeed," said a burly trader, an oil-dealer and a great politician,
"there were probably not even ten. There was no fighting or else we
should have seen some blood in the morning. I went to the town-hall
myself to look; the courtyard was as clean as my hand."

Then a workman, who stepped timidly up to the group, added: "There was
no need of any violence to seize the building; the door wasn't even
shut."

This remark was received with laughter, and the workman, thus
encouraged, continued: "As for those Rougons, everybody knows that they
are a bad lot."

This insult pierced Felicite to the heart. The ingratitude of the
people was heartrending to her, for she herself was at last beginning to
believe in the mission of the Rougons. She called for her husband. She
wanted him to learn how fickle was the multitude.

"It's all a piece with their mirror," continued the lawyer. "What a fuss
they made about that broken glass! You know that Rougon is quite capable
of having fired his gun at it just to make believe there had been a
battle."

Pierre restrained a cry of pain. What! they did not even believe in his
mirror now! They would soon assert that he had not heard a bullet whiz
past his ear. The legend of the Rougons would be blotted out; nothing
would remain of their glory. But his torture was not at an end yet.
The groups manifested their hostility as heartily as they had displayed
their approval on the previous evening. A retired hatter, an old man
seventy years of age, whose factory had formerly been in the Faubourg,
ferreted out the Rougons' past history. He spoke vaguely, with the
hesitation of a wandering memory, about the Fouques' property, and
Adelaide, and her amours with a smuggler. He said just enough to give
a fresh start to the gossip. The tattlers drew closer together and such
words as "rogues," "thieves," and "shameless intriguers," ascended to
the shutter behind which Pierre and Felicite were perspiring with fear
and indignation. The people on the square even went so far as to pity
Macquart. This was the final blow. On the previous day Rougon had been a
Brutus, a stoic soul sacrificing his own affections to his country; now
he was nothing but an ambitious villain, who felled his brother to the
ground and made use of him as a stepping-stone to fortune.

"You hear, you hear them?" Pierre murmured in a stifled voice. "Ah! the
scoundrels, they are killing us; we shall never retrieve ourselves."

Felicite, enraged, was beating a tattoo on the shutter with her
impatient fingers.

"Let them talk," she answered. "If we get the upper hand again they
shall see what stuff I'm made of. I know where the blow comes from. The
new town hates us."

She guessed rightly. The sudden unpopularity of the Rougons was the
work of a group of lawyers who were very much annoyed at the importance
acquired by an old illiterate oil-dealer, whose house had been on the
verge of bankruptcy. The Saint-Marc quarter had shown no sign of life
for the last two days. The inhabitants of the old quarter and the new
town alone remained in presence, and the latter had taken advantage
of the panic to injure the yellow drawing-room in the minds of the
tradespeople and working-classes. Roudier and Granoux were said to
be excellent men, honourable citizens, who had been led away by the
Rougons' intrigues. Their eyes ought to be opened to it. Ought not
Monsieur Isidore Granoux to be seated in the mayor's arm-chair, in the
place of that big portly beggar who had not a copper to bless himself
with? Thus launched, the envious folks began to reproach Rougon for
all the acts of his administration, which only dated from the previous
evening. He had no right to retain the services of the former Municipal
Council; he had been guilty of grave folly in ordering the gates to be
closed; it was through his stupidity that five members of the Commission
had contracted inflammation of the lungs on the terrace of the
Valqueyras mansion. There was no end to his faults. The Republicans
likewise raised their heads. They talked of the possibility of a sudden
attack upon the town-hall by the workmen of the Faubourg. The reaction
was at its last gasp.

Pierre, at this overthrow of all his hopes, began to wonder what support
he might still rely on if occasion should require any.

"Wasn't Aristide to come here this evening," he asked, "to make it up
with us?"

"Yes," answered Felicite.



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Keywords: indeed, should, commission, drawing-room, yellow, administration, soldiers, received, roudier, valqueyras
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