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Not that he felt the least
pity for the lad; he was simply afraid the matter of the gendarme might
come before the Assize Court. Ah! if only some discriminating bullet had
managed to rid him of that young scoundrel! As his wife had pointed out
to him in the morning, all obstacles had fallen away before him; the
family which had dishonoured him had, at the last moment, worked for his
elevation; his sons Eugene and Aristide, those spend-thrifts, the cost
of whose college life he had so bitterly regretted, were at last paying
interest on the capital expended for their education. And yet the
thought of that wretched Silvere must come to mar his hour of triumph!

While Felicite was running about to prepare the dinner for the evening,
Pierre heard of the arrival of the troops and determined to go and make
inquiries. Sicardot, whom he had questioned on his return, knew nothing;
Pascal must have remained to look after the wounded; as for Silvere, he
had not even been seen by the commander, who scarcely knew him. Rougon
therefore repaired to the Faubourg, intending to make inquiries there
and at the same time pay Macquart the eight hundred francs which he had
just succeeded in raising with great difficulty. However, when he found
himself in the crowded encampment, and from a distance saw the prisoners
sitting in long files on the beams in the Aire Saint-Mittre, guarded by
soldiers gun in hand, he felt afraid of being compromised, and so slunk
off to his mother's house, with the intention of sending the old woman
out to pick up some information.

When he entered the hovel it was almost night. At first the only person
he saw there was Macquart smoking and drinking brandy.

"Is that you? I'm glad of it," muttered Antoine. "I'm growing deuced
cold here. Have you got the money?"

But Pierre did not reply. He had just perceived his son Pascal leaning
over the bed. And thereupon he questioned him eagerly. The doctor,
surprised by his uneasiness, which he attributed to paternal affection,
told him that the soldiers had taken him and would have shot him, had
it not been for the intervention of some honest fellow whom he did not
know. Saved by his profession of surgeon, he had returned to Plassans
with the troops. This greatly relieved Rougon. So there was yet another
who would not compromise him. He was evincing his delight by repeated
hand-shakings, when Pascal concluded in a sorrowful voice: "Oh! don't
make merry. I have just found my poor grandmother in a very dangerous
state. I brought her back this carbine, which she values very much; I
found her lying here, and she has not moved since."

Pierre's eyes were becoming accustomed to the dimness. In the fast
fading light he saw aunt Dide stretched, rigid and seemingly lifeless,
upon her bed. Her wretched frame, attacked by neurosis from the hour of
birth, was at length laid prostrate by a supreme shock. Her nerves had
so to say consumed her blood. Moreover some cruel grief seemed to have
suddenly accelerated her slow wasting-away. Her pale nun-like face,
drawn and pinched by a life of gloom and cloister-like self-denial, was
now stained with red blotches. With convulsed features, eyes that glared
terribly, and hands twisted and clenched, she lay at full length in her
skirts, which failed to hide the sharp outlines of her scrawny limbs.
Extended there with lips closely pressed she imparted to the dim room
all the horror of a mute death-agony.

Rougon made a gesture of vexation. This heart-rending spectacle was very
distasteful to him. He had company coming to dinner in the evening, and
it would be extremely inconvenient for him to have to appear mournful.
His mother was always doing something to bother him. She might just
as well have chosen another day. However, he put on an appearance of
perfect ease, as he said: "Bah! it's nothing. I've seen her like that a
hundred times. You must let her lie still; it's the only thing that does
her any good."

Pascal shook his head. "No, this fit isn't like the others," he
whispered. "I have often studied her, and have never observed such
symptoms before. Just look at her eyes: there is a peculiar fluidity, a
pale brightness about them which causes me considerable uneasiness. And
her face, how frightfully every muscle of it is distorted!"

Then bending over to observe her features more closely, he continued
in a whisper, as though speaking to himself: "I have never seen such a
face, excepting among people who have been murdered or have died from
fright. She must have experienced some terrible shock."

"But how did the attack begin?" Rougon impatiently inquired, at a loss
for an excuse to leave the room.

Pascal did not know. Macquart, as he poured himself out another glass
of brandy, explained that he had felt an inclination to drink a little
Cognac, and had sent her to fetch a bottle. She had not been long
absent, and at the very moment when she returned she had fallen rigid on
the floor without uttering a word. Macquart himself had carried her to
the bed.

"What surprises me," he said, by way of conclusion, "is, that she did
not break the bottle."

The young doctor reflected. After a short pause he resumed: "I heard two
shots fired as I came here. Perhaps those ruffians have been shooting
some more prisoners. If she passed through the ranks of the soldiers at
that moment, the sight of blood may have thrown her into this fit. She
must have had some dreadful shock."

Fortunately he had with him the little medicine-case which he had been
carrying about ever since the departure of the insurgents. He tried
to pour a few drops of reddish liquid between aunt Dide's closely-set
teeth, while Macquart again asked his brother: "Have you got the money?"

"Yes, I've brought it; we'll settle now," Rougon replied, glad of this
diversion.

Thereupon Macquart, seeing that he was about to be paid, began to moan.
He had only learnt the consequence of his treachery when it was too
late; otherwise he would have demanded twice or thrice as much. And he
complained bitterly. Really now a thousand francs was not enough. His
children had forsaken him, he was all alone in the world, and obliged to
quit France. He almost wept as he spoke of his coming exile.

"Come now, will you take the eight hundred francs?" said Rougon, who was
in haste to be off.

"No, certainly not; double the sum. Your wife cheated me. If she had
told me distinctly what it was she expected of me, I would never have
compromised myself for such a trifle."

Rougon laid the eight hundred francs upon the table.

"I swear I haven't got any more," he resumed. "I will think of you
later. But do, for mercy's sake, get away this evening."

Macquart, cursing and muttering protests, thereupon carried the table
to the window, and began to count the gold in the fading twilight. The
coins tickled the tips of his fingers very pleasantly as he let them
fall, and jingled musically in the darkness. At last he paused for a
moment to say: "You promised to get me a berth, remember. I want to
return to France. The post of rural guard in some pleasant neighbourhood
which I could mention, would just suit me."

"Very well, I'll see about it," Rougon replied. "Have you got the eight
hundred francs?"

Macquart resumed his counting. The last coins were just clinking when a
burst of laughter made them turn their heads. Aunt Dide was standing up
in front of the bed, with her bodice unfastened, her white hair hanging
loose, and her face stained with red blotches. Pascal had in vain
endeavoured to hold her down. Trembling all over, and with her arms
outstretched, she shook her head deliriously.

"The blood-money! the blood-money!" she again and again repeated. "I
heard the gold. And it is they, they who sold him. Ah! the murderers!
They are a pack of wolves."

Then she pushed her hair aback, and passed her hand over her brow, as
though seeking to collect her thoughts. And she continued: "Ah! I have
long seen him with a bullet-hole in his forehead. There were always
people lying in wait for him with guns. They used to sign to me that
they were going to fire. . . . It's terrible! I feel some one breaking
my bones and battering out my brains. Oh! Mercy! Mercy! I beseech you;
he shall not see her any more--never, never! I will shut him up. I will
prevent him from walking out with her. Mercy! Mercy! Don't fire. It is
not my fault. If you knew----"

She had almost fallen on her knees, and was weeping and entreating while
she stretched her poor trembling hands towards some horrible vision
which she saw in the darkness. Then she suddenly rose upright, and her
eyes opened still more widely as a terrible cry came from her convulsed
throat, as though some awful sight, visible to her alone, had filled her
with mad terror.

"Oh, the gendarme!" she said, choking and falling backwards on the bed,
where she rolled about, breaking into long bursts of furious, insane
laughter.

Pascal was studying the attack attentively. The two brothers, who felt
very frightened, and only detected snatches of what their mother said,
had taken refuge in a corner of the room. When Rougon heard the word
gendarme, he thought he understood her. Ever since the murder of her
lover, the elder Macquart, on the frontier, aunt Dide had cherished a
bitter hatred against all gendarmes and custom-house officers, whom she
mingled together in one common longing for vengeance.

"Why, it's the story of the poacher that she's telling us," he
whispered.

But Pascal made a sign to him to keep quiet. The stricken woman had
raised herself with difficulty, and was looking round her, with a
stupefied air. She remained silent for a moment, endeavouring to
recognise the various objects in the room, as though she were in some
strange place. Then, with a sudden expression of anxiety, she asked:
"Where is the gun?"

The doctor put the carbine into her hands. At this she raised a light
cry of joy, and gazed at the weapon, saying in a soft, sing-song,
girlish whisper: "That is it. Oh! I recognise it! It is all stained with
blood. The stains are quite fresh to-day.



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Keywords: another, thereupon, evening, stained, doctor, soldiers, almost, gendarme, before, fallen
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