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They exchanged a look
in which they read their common thoughts: so now the old woman would not
trouble them any more: the poacher's hovel would be razed to the ground,
as the walls of the Fouques' enclosure had been demolished; and they
would for ever enjoy the respect and esteem of Plassans.

But the guests were looking at the table. Felicite showed the gentlemen
their seats. It was perfect bliss. As each one took his spoon, Sicardot
made a gesture to solicit a moment's delay. Then he rose and gravely
said: "Gentlemen, on behalf of the company present, I wish to express
to our host how pleased we are at the rewards which his courage and
patriotism have procured for him. I now see that he must have acted upon
a heaven-sent inspiration in remaining here, while those beggars were
dragging myself and others along the high roads. Therefore, I heartily
applaud the decision of the government. . . . Let me finish, you can
then congratulate our friend. . . . Know, then, that our friend, besides
being made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour, is also to be appointed
to a receiver of taxes."

There was a cry of surprise. They had expected a small post. Some of
them tried to force a smile; but, aided by the sight of the table, the
compliments again poured forth profusely.

Sicardot once more begged for silence. "Wait one moment," he resumed;
"I have not finished. Just one word. It is probable that our friend will
remain among us, owing to the death of Monsieur Peirotte."

Whilst the guests burst out into exclamations, Felicite felt a keen pain
in her heart. Sicardot had already told her that the receiver had been
shot; but at the mention of that sudden and shocking death, just as they
were starting on that triumphal dinner, it seemed as if a chilling gust
swept past her face. She remembered her wish; it was she who had killed
that man. However, amidst the tinkling music of the silver, the company
began to do honour to the banquet. In the provinces, people eat
very much and very noisily. By the time the _releve_ was served, the
gentlemen were all talking together; they showered kicks upon the
vanquished, flattered one another, and made disparaging remarks about
the absence of the marquis. It was impossible, they said, to maintain
intercourse with the nobility. Roudier even gave out that the marquis
had begged to be excused because his fear of the insurgents had given
him jaundice. At the second course they all scrambled like hounds at
the quarry. The oil-dealers and almond-dealers were the men who saved
France. They clinked glasses to the glory of the Rougons. Granoux, who
was very red, began to stammer, while Vuillet, very pale, was quite
drunk. Nevertheless Sicardot continued filling his glass. For her part
Angele, who had already eaten too much, prepared herself some sugar and
water. The gentlemen were so delighted at being freed from panic, and
finding themselves together again in that yellow drawing-room, round a
good table, in the bright light radiating from the candelabra and
the chandelier--which they now saw for the first time without its
fly-specked cover--that they gave way to most exuberant folly and
indulged in the coarsest enjoyment. Their voices rose in the warm
atmosphere more huskily and eulogistically at each successive dish till
they could scarcely invent fresh compliments. However, one of them, an
old retired master-tanner, hit upon this fine phrase--that the dinner
was a "perfect feast worthy of Lucullus."

Pierre was radiant, and his big pale face perspired with triumph.
Felicite, already accustoming herself to her new station in life, said
that they would probably rent poor Monsieur Peirotte's flat until they
could purchase a house of their own in the new town. She was already
planning how she would place her future furniture in the receiver's
rooms. She was entering into possession of her Tuileries. At one
moment, however, as the uproar of voices became deafening, she seemed to
recollect something, and quitting her seat she whispered in Aristide's
ear: "And Silvere?"

The young man started with surprise at the question.

"He is dead," he replied, likewise in a whisper. "I was there when the
gendarme blew his brains out with a pistol."

Felicite in her turn shuddered. She opened her mouth to ask her son
why he had not prevented this murder by claiming the lad; but abruptly
hesitating she remained there speechless. Then Aristide, who had read
her question on her quivering lips, whispered: "You understand, I said
nothing--so much the worse for him! I did quite right. It's a good
riddance."

This brutal frankness displeased Felicite. So Aristide had his skeleton,
like his father and mother. He would certainly not have confessed so
openly that he had been strolling about the Faubourg and had allowed his
cousin to be shot, had not the wine from the Hotel de Provence and the
dreams he was building upon his approaching arrival in Paris, made
him depart from his habitual cunning. The words once spoken, he
swung himself to and fro on his chair. Pierre, who had watched the
conversation between his wife and son from a distance, understood what
had passed and glanced at them like an accomplice imploring silence. It
was the last blast of terror, as it were, which blew over the Rougons,
amidst the splendour and enthusiastic merriment of the dinner. True,
Felicite, on returning to her seat, espied a taper burning behind a
window on the other side of the road. Some one sat watching Monsieur
Peirotte's corpse, which had been brought back from Sainte-Roure that
morning. She sat down, feeling as if that taper were heating her back.
But the gaiety was now increasing, and exclamations of rapture rang
through the yellow drawing-room when the dessert appeared.

At that same hour, the Faubourg was still shuddering at the tragedy
which had just stained the Aire Saint-Mittre with blood. The return of
the troops, after the carnage on the Nores plain, had been marked by the
most cruel reprisals. Men were beaten to death behind bits of wall, with
the butt-ends of muskets, others had their brains blown out in ravines
by the pistols of gendarmes. In order that terror might impose silence,
the soldiers strewed their road with corpses. One might have followed
them by the red trail which they left behind.[*] It was a long butchery.
At every halting-place, a few insurgents were massacred. Two were killed
at Sainte-Roure, three at Ocheres, one at Beage. When the troops were
encamped at Plassans, on the Nice road, it was decided that one more
prisoner, the most guilty, should be shot. The victors judged it wise
to leave this fresh corpse behind them in order to inspire the town
with respect for the new-born Empire. But the soldiers were now weary of
killing; none offered himself for the fatal task. The prisoners, thrown
on the beams in the timber-yard as though on a camp bed, and bound
together in pairs by the hands, listened and waited in a state of weary,
resigned stupor.

[*] Though M. Zola has changed his place in his account of
the insurrection, that account is strictly accurate in all
its chief particulars. What he says of the savagery both of
the soldiers and of their officers is confirmed by all
impartial historical writers.--EDITOR.

At that moment the gendarme Rengade roughly opened a way for himself
through the crowd of inquisitive idlers. As soon as he heard that the
troops had returned with several hundred insurgents, he had risen
from bed, shivering with fever, and risking his life in the cold, dark
December air. Scarcely was he out of doors when his wound reopened, the
bandage which covered his eyeless socket became stained with blood,
and a red streamlet trickled over his cheek and moustache. He looked
frightful in his dumb fury with his pale face and blood-stained bandage,
as he ran along closely scrutinising each of the prisoners. He followed
the beams, bending down and going to and fro, making the bravest shudder
by his abrupt appearance. And, all of a sudden: "Ah! the bandit, I've
got him!" he cried.

He had just laid his hand on Silvere's shoulder. Silvere, crouching down
on a beam, with lifeless and expressionless face, was looking straight
before him into the pale twilight, with a calm, stupefied air. Ever
since his departure from Sainte-Roure, he had retained that vacant
stare. Along the high road, for many a league, whenever the soldiers
urged on the march of their captives with the butt-ends of their rifles,
he had shown himself as gentle as a child. Covered with dust, thirsty
and weary, he trudged onward without saying a word, like one of those
docile animals that herdsmen drive along. He was thinking of Miette. He
ever saw her lying on the banner, under the trees with her eyes turned
upwards. For three days he had seen none but her; and at this very
moment, amidst the growing darkness, he still saw her.

Rengade turned towards the officer, who had failed to find among the
soldiers the requisite men for an execution.

"This villain put my eye out," he said, pointing to Silvere. "Hand him
over to me. It's as good as done for you."

The officer did not reply in words, but withdrew with an air of
indifference, making a vague gesture. The gendarme understood that the
man was surrendered to him.

"Come, get up!" he resumed, as he shook him.

Silvere, like all the other prisoners, had a companion attached to him.
He was fastened by the arm to a peasant of Poujols named Mourgue, a man
about fifty, who had been brutified by the scorching sun and the
hard labour of tilling the ground. Crooked-backed already, his hands
hardened, his face coarse and heavy, he blinked his eyes in a stupid
manner, with the stubborn, distrustful expression of an animal subject
to the lash. He had set out armed with a pitchfork, because his fellow
villagers had done so; but he could not have explained what had thus
set him adrift on the high roads. Since he had been made a prisoner
he understood it still less. He had some vague idea that he was being
conveyed home. His amazement at finding himself bound, the sight of all
the people staring at him, stupefied him still more.



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Keywords: sainte-roure, silence, insurgents, understood, gendarme, friend, troops, monsieur, amidst, dinner
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