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Shouts rose from
the nearest group:

"Bravo, Chantegreil! Chantegreil for ever! She shall remain with us;
she'll bring us luck!"

They would have cheered her for a long time yet had not the order to
resume the march arrived. Whilst the column moved on, Miette pressed
Silvere's hand and whispered in his ear: "You hear! I shall remain with
you. Are you glad?"

Silvere, without replying, returned the pressure. He consented. In fact,
he was deeply affected, unable to resist the enthusiasm which fired his
companions. Miette seemed to him so lovely, so grand, so saintly! During
the whole climb up the hill he still saw her before him, radiant, amidst
a purple glory. She was now blended with his other adored mistress--the
Republic. He would have liked to be in action already, with his gun on
his shoulder. But the insurgents moved slowly. They had orders to make
as little noise as possible. Thus the column advanced between the
rows of elms like some gigantic serpent whose every ring had a strange
quivering. The frosty December night had again sunk into silence, and
the Viorne alone seemed to roar more loudly.

On reaching the first houses of the Faubourg, Silvere ran on in front to
fetch his gun from the Aire Saint-Mittre, which he found slumbering in
the moonlight. When he again joined the insurgents they had reached
the Porte de Rome. Miette bent towards him, and with her childish smile
observed: "I feel as if I were at the procession on Corpus Christi Day
carrying the banner of the Virgin."



CHAPTER II

Plassans is a sub-prefecture with about ten thousand inhabitants. Built
on a plateau overlooking the Viorne, and resting on the north side
against the Garrigues hills, one of the last spurs of the Alps, the
town is situated, as it were, in the depths of a cul-de-sac. In 1851
it communicated with the adjoining country by two roads only, the Nice
road, which runs down to the east, and the Lyons road, which rises to
the west, the one continuing the other on almost parallel lines. Since
that time a railway has been built which passes to the south of the
town, below the hill which descends steeply from the old ramparts to
the river. At the present day, on coming out of the station on the right
bank of the little torrent, one can see, by raising one's head, the
first houses of Plassans, with their gardens disposed in terrace
fashion. It is, however, only after an uphill walk lasting a full
quarter of an hour that one reaches these houses.

About twenty years ago, owing, no doubt, to deficient means of
communication, there was no town that had more completely retained the
pious and aristocratic character of the old Provencal cities. Plassans
then had, and has even now, a whole district of large mansions built
in the reigns of Louis XIV. and Louis XV., a dozen churches, Jesuit
and Capuchin houses, and a considerable number of convents. Class
distinctions were long perpetuated by the town's division into various
districts. There were three of them, each forming, as it were, a
separate and complete locality, with its own churches, promenades,
customs, and landscapes.

The district of the nobility, called Saint-Marc, after the name of one
of its parish churches, is a sort of miniature Versailles, with straight
streets overgrown with grass, and large square houses which conceal
extensive gardens. It extends to the south along the edge of the
plateau. Some of the mansions built on the declivity itself have a
double row of terraces whence one can see the whole valley of the
Viorne, a most charming vista much vaunted in that part of the country.
Then on the north-west, the old quarter, formed of the original town,
rears its narrow, tortuous lanes bordered with tottering hovels. The
Town-Hall, the Civil Court, the Market, and the Gendarmerie barracks
are situated here. This, the most populous part of the Plassans, is
inhabited by working-men and shop-keepers, all the wretched, toiling,
common folk. The new town forms a sort of parallelogram to the
north-east; the well-to-do, those who have slowly amassed a fortune, and
those engaged in the liberal professions, here occupy houses set out
in straight lines and coloured a light yellow. This district, which is
embellished by the Sub-Prefecture, an ugly plaster building decorated
with rose-mouldings, numbered scarcely five or six streets in 1851; it
is of quite recent formation, and it is only since the construction of
the railway that it has been growing in extent.

One circumstance which even at the present time tends to divide
Plassans into three distinct independent parts is that the limits of the
districts are clearly defined by the principal thoroughfares. The Cours
Sauvaire and the Rue de Rome, which is, as it were, a narrow extension
of the former, run from west to east, from the Grand'-Porte to the
Porte de Rome, thus cutting the town into two portions, and dividing
the quarter of the nobility from the others. The latter are themselves
parted by the Rue de la Banne. This street, the finest in the locality,
starts from the extremity of the Cours Sauvaire, and ascends northwards,
leaving the black masses of the old quarter on its left, and the
light-yellow houses of the new town on its right. It is here, about
half-way along the street, that stands the Sub-Prefecture, in the rear
of a small square planted with sickly trees; the people of Plassans are
very proud of this edifice.

As if to keep more isolated and shut up within itself, the town is
belted with old ramparts, which only serve to increase its gloom and
render it more confined. These ridiculous fortifications, preyed upon by
ivy and crowned with wild gillyflowers, are about as high and as thick
as the walls of a convent, and could be demolished by gunshot. They
have several openings, the principal of which, the Porte de Rome and the
Grand'-Porte, afford access to the Nice road and the Lyons road, at the
other end of town. Until 1853 these openings were furnished with huge
wooden two-leaved gates, arched at the top, and strengthened with bars
of iron. These gates were double-locked at eleven o'clock in summer, and
ten o'clock in winter. The town having thus shot its bolts like a timid
girl, went quietly to sleep. A keeper, who lived in a little cell in one
of the inner corners of each gateway, was authorised to admit belated
persons. But it was necessary to stand parleying a long time. The keeper
would not let people in until, by the light of his lantern, he had
carefully scrutinised their faces through a peep-hole. If their looks
displeased him they had to sleep outside. This custom of locking the
gates every evening was highly characteristic of the spirit of the town,
which was a commingling of cowardice, egotism, routine, exclusiveness,
and devout longing for a cloistered life. Plassans, when it had shut
itself up, would say to itself, "I am at home," with the satisfaction
of some pious bourgeois, who, assured of the safety of his cash-box,
and certain that no noise will disturb him, duly says his prayers and
retires gladly to bed. No other town, I believe, has so long persisted
in thus incarcerating itself like a nun.

The population of Plassans is divided into three groups, corresponding
with the same number of districts. Putting aside the functionaries--the
sub-prefect, the receiver of taxes, the mortgage commissioner, and
the postmaster, who are all strangers to the locality, where they are
objects of envy rather than of esteem, and who live after their own
fashion--the real inhabitants, those who were born there and have
every intention of ending their days there, feel too much respect for
traditional usages and established boundaries not to pen themselves of
their own accord in one or other of the town's social divisions.

The nobility virtually cloister themselves. Since the fall of Charles X.
they scarcely ever go out, and when they do they are eager to return
to their large dismal mansions, and walk along furtively as though they
were in a hostile country. They do not visit anyone, nor do they even
receive each other. Their drawing-rooms are frequented by a few priests
only. They spend the summer in the chateaux which they possess in the
environs; in the winter, they sit round their firesides. They are, as
it were, dead people weary of life. And thus the gloomy silence of a
cemetery hangs over their quarter of the town. The doors and windows
are carefully barricaded; one would think their mansions were so many
convents shut off from all the tumult of the world. At rare intervals
an abbe, whose measured tread adds to the gloomy silence of these sealed
houses, passes by and glides like a shadow through some half-opened
doorway.

The well-to-do people, the retired tradesmen, the lawyers and notaries,
all those of the little easy-going, ambitious world that inhabits the
new town, endeavour to infuse some liveliness into Plassans. They go
to the parties given by the sub-prefect, and dream of giving similar
entertainments. They eagerly seek popularity, call a workman "my good
fellow," chat with the peasants about the harvest, read the papers, and
walk out with their wives on Sundays. Theirs are the enlightened
minds of the district, they are the only persons who venture to speak
disparagingly of the ramparts; in fact, they have several times demanded
of the authorities the demolition of those old walls, relics of a former
age. At the same time, the most sceptical among them experience a shock
of delight whenever a marquis or a count deigns to honour them with a
stiff salutation. Indeed, the dream of every citizen of the new town is
to be admitted to a drawing-room of the Saint-Marc quarter. They know
very well that their ambition is not attainable, and it is this which
makes them proclaim all the louder that they are freethinkers. But they
are freethinkers in words only; firm friends of the authorities, they
are ready to rush into the arms of the first deliverer at the slightest
indication of popular discontent.

The group which toils and vegetates in the old quarter is not so clearly
defined as the others.



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Keywords: silence, viorne, nobility, locality, themselves, country, districts, churches, sub-prefecture, ramparts
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