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The atmosphere of the little
room, reeking with the odour of spirits and warm with tobacco smoke,
intoxicated him and filled him with peculiar beatitude, prompting a kind
of self-surrender which made him willing to acquiesce in the wildest
ideas. He grew attached to those he met there, and looked for them
and awaited their coming with a pleasure which increased with habit.
Robine's mild, bearded countenance, Clemence's serious profile,
Charvet's fleshless pallor, Logre's hump, Gavard, Alexandre, and
Lacaille, all entered into his life, and assumed a larger and larger
place in it. He took quite a sensual enjoyment in these meetings.
When his fingers closed round the brass knob on the door of the little
cabinet it seemed to be animated with life, to warm him, and turn of its
own accord. Had he grasped the supple wrist of a woman he could not have
felt a more thrilling emotion.

To tell the truth, very serious things took place in that little room.
One evening, Logre, after indulging in wilder outbursts than usual,
banged his fist upon the table, declaring that if they were men they
would make a clean sweep of the Government. And he added that it was
necessary they should come to an understanding without further delay, if
they desired to be fully prepared when the time for action arrived. Then
they all bent their heads together, discussed the matter in lower tones,
and decided to form a little "group," which should be ready for whatever
might happen. From that day forward Gavard flattered himself that he
was a member of a secret society, and was engaged in a conspiracy. The
little circle received no new members, but Logre promised to put it into
communication with other associations with which he was acquainted; and
then, as soon as they held all Paris in their grasp, they would rise
and make the Tuileries' people dance. A series of endless discussions,
renewed during several months, then began--discussions on questions of
organisation, on questions of ways and means, on questions of strategy,
and of the form of the future Government. As soon as Rose had brought
Clemence's grog, Charvet's and Robine's beer, the coffee for Logre,
Gavard, and Florent, and the liqueur glasses of brandy for Lacaille
and Alexandre, the door of the cabinet was carefully fastened, and the
debate began.

Charvet and Florent were naturally those whose utterances were listened
to with the greatest attention. Gavard had not been able to keep his
tongue from wagging, but had gradually related the whole story of
Cayenne; and Florent found himself surrounded by a halo of martyrdom.
His words were received as though they were the expression of
indisputable dogmas. One evening, however, the poultry dealer, vexed
at hearing his friend, who happened to be absent, attacked, exclaimed:
"Don't say anything against Florent; he's been to Cayenne!"

Charvet was rather annoyed by the advantage which this circumstance
gave to Florent. "Cayenne, Cayenne," he muttered between his teeth. "Ah,
well, they were not so badly off there, after all."

Then he attempted to prove that exile was a mere nothing, and that real
suffering consisted in remaining in one's oppressed country, gagged in
presence of triumphant despotism. And besides, he urged, it wasn't his
fault that he hadn't been arrested on the Second of December. Next,
however, he hinted that those who had allowed themselves to be captured
were imbeciles. His secret jealousy made him a systematic opponent of
Florent; and the general discussions always ended in a duel between
these two, who, while their companions listened in silence, would speak
against one another for hours at a time, without either of them allowing
that he was beaten.

One of the favourite subjects of discussion was that of the
reorganisation of the country which would have to be effected on the
morrow of their victory.

"We are the conquerors, are we not?" began Gavard.

And, triumph being taken for granted, everyone offered his opinion.
There were two rival parties. Charvet, who was a disciple of Hebert, was
supported by Logre and Robine; while Florent, who was always absorbed
in humanitarian dreams, and called himself a Socialist, was backed by
Alexandre and Lacaille. As for Gavard, he felt no repugnance for violent
action; but, as he was often twitted about his fortune with no end of
sarcastic witticisms which annoyed him, he declared himself a Communist.

"We must make a clean sweep of everything," Charvet would curtly say, as
though he were delivering a blow with a cleaver. "The trunk is rotten,
and it must come down."

"Yes! yes!" cried Logre, standing up that he might look taller,
and making the partition shake with the excited motion of his hump.
"Everything will be levelled to the ground; take my word for it. After
that we shall see what to do."

Robine signified approval by wagging his beard. His silence seemed
instinct with delight whenever violent revolutionary propositions were
made. His eyes assumed a soft ecstatic expression at the mention of the
guillotine. He half closed them, as though he could see the machine, and
was filled with pleasant emotion at the sight; and next he would gently
rub his chin against the knob of his stick, with a subdued purr of
satisfaction.

"All the same," said Florent, in whose voice a vague touch of sadness
lingered, "if you cut down the tree it will be necessary to preserve
some seed. For my part, I think that the tree ought to be preserved, so
that we may graft new life on it. The political revolution, you know,
has already taken place; to-day we have got to think of the labourer,
the working man. Our movement must be altogether a social one. I defy
you to reject the claims of the people. They are weary of waiting, and
are determined to have their share of happiness."

These words aroused Alexandre's enthusiasm. With a beaming, radiant face
he declared that this was true, that the people were weary of waiting.

"And we will have our share," added Lacaille, with a more menacing
expression. "All the revolutions that have taken place have been for
the good of the middle classes. We've had quite enough of that sort of
thing, and the next one shall be for our benefit."

From this moment disagreement set in. Gavard offered to make a division
of his property, but Logre declined, asserting that he cared nothing for
money. Then Charvet gradually overcame the tumult, till at last he alone
was heard speaking.

"The selfishness of the different classes does more than anything else
to uphold tyranny," said he. "It is wrong of the people to display
egotism. If they assist us they shall have their share. But why should
I fight for the working man if the working man won't fight for
me? Moreover, that is not the question at present. Ten years of
revolutionary dictatorship will be necessary to accustom a nation like
France to the fitting enjoyment of liberty."

"All the more so as the working man is not ripe for it, and requires to
be directed," said Clemence bluntly.

She but seldom spoke. This tall, serious looking girl, alone among
so many men, listened to all the political chatter with a learnedly
critical air. She leaned back against the partition, and every now and
then sipped her grog whilst gazing at the speakers with frowning
brows or inflated nostrils, thus silently signifying her approval or
disapproval, and making it quite clear that she held decided opinions
upon the most complicated matters. At times she would roll a cigarette,
and puff slender whiffs of smoke from the corners of her mouth, whilst
lending increased attention to what was being debated. It was as though
she were presiding over the discussion, and would award the prize to
the victor when it was finished. She certainly considered that it became
her, as a woman, to display some reserve in her opinions, and to remain
calm whilst the men grew more and more excited. Now and then, however,
in the heat of the debate, she would let a word or a phrase escape her
and "clench the matter" even for Charvet himself, as Gavard said. In her
heart she believed herself the superior of all these fellows. The only
one of them for whom she felt any respect was Robine, and she would
thoughtfully contemplate his silent bearing.

Neither Florent nor any of the others paid any special attention to
Clemence. They treated her just as though she were a man, shaking hands
with her so roughly as almost to dislocate her arms. One evening Florent
witnessed the periodical settlement of accounts between her and Charvet.
She had just received her pay, and Charvet wanted to borrow ten francs
from her; but she first of all insisted that they must reckon up
how matters stood between them. They lived together in a voluntary
partnership, each having complete control of his or her earnings, and
strictly paying his or her expenses. By so doing, said they, they were
under no obligations to one another, but retained entire freedom. Rent,
food, washing, and amusements, were all noted down and added up. That
evening, when the accounts had been verified, Clemence proved to Charvet
that he already owed her five francs. Then she handed him the other ten
which he wished to borrow, and exclaimed: "Recollect that you now owe me
fifteen. I shall expect you to repay me on the fifth, when you get paid
for teaching little Lehudier."

When Rose was summoned to receive payment for the "drinks," each
produced the few coppers required to discharge his or her liability.
Charvet laughingly called Clemence an aristocrat because she drank grog.
She wanted to humiliate him, said he, and make him feel that he earned
less than she did, which, as it happened, was the fact. Beneath his
laugh, however, there was a feeling of bitterness that the girl should
be better circumstanced than himself, for, in spite of his theory of the
equality of the sexes, this lowered him.

Although the discussions in the little room had virtually no result,
they served to exercise the speakers' lungs. A tremendous hubbub
proceeded from the sanctum, and the panes of frosted glass vibrated
like drum-skins.



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