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Whatever shall we do! We are over head and ears
in debt."

"It's your fault!" Pierre cried, with all his remaining strength.

The Rougons, in fact, owed money on every side. The hope of approaching
success had made them forget all prudence. Since the beginning of 1851
they had gone so far as to entertain the frequenters of the yellow
drawing-room every evening with syrup and punch, and cakes--providing,
in fact, complete collations, at which they one and all drank to the
death of the Republic. Besides this, Pierre had placed a quarter of
his capital at the disposal of the reactionary party, as a contribution
towards the purchase of guns and cartridges.

"The pastry-cook's bill amounts to at least a thousand francs," Felicite
resumed, in her sweetest tone, "and we probably owe twice as much to
the liqueur-dealer. Then there's the butcher, the baker, the
greengrocer----"

Pierre was in agony. And Felicite struck him a final blow by adding: "I
say nothing of the ten thousand francs you gave for the guns."

"I, I!" he faltered, "but I was deceived, I was robbed! It was that
idiot Sicardot who let me in for that by swearing that the Napoleonists
would be triumphant. I thought I was only making an advance. But the old
dolt will have to repay me my money."

"Ah! you won't get anything back," said his wife, shrugging her
shoulders. "We shall suffer the fate of war. When we have paid off
everything, we sha'n't even have enough to buy dry bread with. Ah! it's
been a fine campaign. We can now go and live in some hovel in the old
quarter."

This last phrase had a most lugubrious sound. It seemed like the knell
of their existence. Pierre pictured the hovel in the old quarter, which
had just been mentioned by Felicite. 'Twas there, then, that he would
die on a pallet, after striving all his life for the enjoyment of ease
and luxury. In vain had he robbed his mother, steeped his hands in the
foulest intrigues, and lied and lied for many a long year. The Empire
would not pay his debts--that Empire which alone could save him. He
jumped out of bed in his night-shirt, crying: "No; I'll take my gun; I
would rather let the insurgents kill me."

"Well!" Felicite rejoined, with great composure, "you can have that done
to-morrow or the day after; the Republicans are not far off. And that
way will do as well as another to make an end of matters."

Pierre shuddered. It seemed as if some one had suddenly poured a large
pail of cold water over his shoulders. He slowly got into bed again, and
when he was warmly wrapped up in the sheets, he began to cry. This
fat fellow easily burst into tears--gently flowing, inexhaustible
tears--which streamed from his eyes without an effort. A terrible
reaction was now going on within him. After his wrath he became as
weak as a child. Felicite, who had been waiting for this crisis, was
delighted to see him so spiritless, so resourceless, and so humbled
before her. She still preserved silence, and an appearance of distressed
humility. After a long pause, her seeming resignation, her mute
dejection, irritated Pierre's nerves.

"But do say something!" he implored; "let us think matters over
together. Is there really no hope left us?"

"None, you know very well," she replied; "you explained the situation
yourself just now; we have no help to expect from anyone; even our
children have betrayed us."

"Let us flee, then. Shall we leave Plassans to-night--immediately?"

"Flee! Why, my dear, to-morrow we should be the talk of the whole town.
Don't you remember, too, that you have had the gates closed?"

A violent struggle was going on in Pierre's mind, which he exerted to
the utmost in seeking for some solution; at last, as though he felt
vanquished, he murmured, in supplicating tones: "I beseech you, do try
to think of something; you haven't said anything yet."

Felicite raised her head, feigning surprise; and with a gesture of
complete powerlessness she said: "I am a fool in these matters. I don't
understand anything about politics, you've told me so a hundred times."

And then, as her embarrassed husband held his tongue and lowered his
eyes, she continued slowly, but not reproachfully: "You have not kept me
informed of your affairs, have you? I know nothing at all about them, I
can't even give you any advice. It was quite right of you, though; women
chatter sometimes, and it is a thousand times better for the men to
steer the ship alone."

She said this with such refined irony that her husband did not detect
that she was deriding him. He simply felt profound remorse. And, all of
a sudden, he burst out into a confession. He spoke of Eugene's letters,
explained his plans, his conduct, with all the loquacity of a man who
is relieving his conscience and imploring a saviour. At every moment
he broke off to ask: "What would you have done in my place?" or else
he cried, "Isn't that so? I was right, I could not act otherwise." But
Felicite did not even deign to make a sign. She listened with all the
frigid reserve of a judge. In reality she was tasting the most exquisite
pleasure; she had got that sly-boots fast at last; she played with him
like a cat playing with a ball of paper; and he virtually held out his
hands to be manacled by her.

"But wait," he said hastily, jumping out of bed. "I'll give you Eugene's
correspondence to read. You can judge the situation better then."

She vainly tried to hold him back by his night-shirt. He spread out the
letters on the table by the bed-side, and then got into bed again, and
read whole pages of them, and compelled her to go through them herself.
She suppressed a smile, and began to feel some pity for the poor man.

"Well," he said anxiously, when he had finished, "now you know
everything. Do you see any means of saving us from ruin!"

She still gave no answer. She appeared to be pondering deeply.

"You are an intelligent woman," he continued, in order to flatter her,
"I did wrong in keeping any secret from you; I see it now."

"Let us say nothing more about that," she replied. "In my opinion, if
you had enough courage----" And as he looked at her eagerly, she broke
off and said, with a smile: "But you promise not to distrust me any
more? You will tell me everything, eh? You will do nothing without
consulting me?"

He swore, and accepted the most rigid conditions. Felicite then got into
bed; and in a whisper, as if she feared somebody might hear them, she
explained at length her plan of campaign. In her opinion the town
must be allowed to fall into still greater panic, while Pierre was to
maintain an heroic demeanour in the midst of the terrified inhabitants.
A secret presentiment, she said, warned her that the insurgents were
still at a distance. Moreover, the party of order would sooner or later
carry the day, and the Rougons would be rewarded. After the role of
deliverer, that of martyr was not to be despised. And she argued so
well, and spoke with so much conviction, that her husband, surprised at
first by the simplicity of her plan, which consisted in facing it out,
at last detected in it a marvellous tactical scheme, and promised to
conform to it with the greatest possible courage.

"And don't forget that it is I who am saving you," the old woman
murmured in a coaxing tone. "Will you be nice to me?"

They kissed each other and said good-night. But neither of them slept;
after a quarter of an hour had gone by, Pierre, who had been gazing at
the round reflection of the night-lamp on the ceiling, turned, and in a
faint whisper told his wife of an idea that had just occurred to him.

"Oh! no, no," Felicite murmured, with a shudder. "That would be too
cruel."

"Well," he resumed, "but you want to spread consternation among the
inhabitants! They would take me seriously, if what I told you should
occur." Then perfecting his scheme, he cried: "We might employ Macquart.
That would be a means of getting rid of him."

Felicite seemed to be struck with the idea. She reflected, seemed to
hesitate, and then, in a distressful tone faltered: "Perhaps you are
right. We must see. After all we should be very stupid if we were
over-scrupulous, for it's a matter of life and death to us. Let me do
it. I'll see Macquart to-morrow, and ascertain if we can come to
an understanding with him. You would only wrangle and spoil all.
Good-night; sleep well, my poor dear. Our troubles will soon be ended,
you'll see."

They again kissed each other and fell asleep. The patch of light on the
ceiling now seemed to be assuming the shape of a terrified eye, that
stared wildly and fixedly upon the pale, slumbering couple who reeked
with crime beneath their very sheets, and dreamt they could see a rain
of blood falling in big drops which turned into golden coins as they
plashed upon the floor.

On the morrow, before daylight, Felicite repaired to the town-hall,
armed with instructions from Pierre to seek an interview with Macquart.
She took her husband's national guard uniform with her, wrapped in a
cloth. There were only a few men fast asleep in the guard-house. The
doorkeeper, who was entrusted with the duty of supplying Macquart with
food, went upstairs with her to open the door of the dressing-room,
which had been turned into a cell. Then quietly he came down again.

Macquart had now been kept in the room for two days and two nights. He
had had time to indulge in lengthy reflections. After his sleep, his
first hours had been given up to outbursts of impotent rage. Goaded by
the idea that his brother was lording it in the adjoining room, he had
felt a great longing to break the door open. At all events he would
strangle Rougon with his own hands, as soon as the insurgents should
return and release him. But, in the evening, at twilight, he calmed
down, and gave over striding furiously round the little room. He inhaled
a sweet odour there; a feeling of comfort relaxed his nerves. Monsieur
Garconnet, who was very rich, refined, and vain, had caused this little
room to be arranged in a very elegant fashion; the sofa was soft and
warm; scents, pomades, and soaps adorned the marble washstand, and the
pale light fell from the ceiling with a soft glow, like the gleams of
a lamp suspended in an alcove.



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Keywords: murmured, matters, insurgents, explained, anything, everything, to-morrow, turned, ceiling, thousand
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