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The labouring classes are here in a majority; but
retail dealers and even a few wholesale traders are to be found among
them. As a matter of fact, Plassans is far from being a commercial
centre; there is only just sufficient trade to dispose of the products
of the country--oil, wine, and almonds. As for industrial labour, it is
represented almost entirely by three or four evil-smelling tanyards,
a felt hat manufactory, and some soap-boiling works, which last are
relegated to a corner of the Faubourg. This little commercial and
industrial world, though it may on high days and holidays visit the
people of the new district, generally takes up its quarters among the
operatives of the old town. Merchants, retail traders, and artisans have
common interests which unite them together. On Sundays only, the masters
make themselves spruce and foregather apart. On the other hand, the
labouring classes, which constitute scarcely a fifth of the population,
mingle with the idlers of the district.

It is only once a week, and during the fine weather, that the three
districts of Plassans come together face to face. The whole town repairs
to the Cours Sauvaire on Sunday after vespers; even the nobility venture
thither. Three distinct currents flow along this sort of boulevard
planted with rows of plane-trees. The well-to-do citizens of the new
quarter merely pass along before quitting the town by the Grand'-Porte
and taking the Avenue du Mail on the right, where they walk up and down
till nightfall. Meantime, the nobility and the lower classes share the
Cours Sauvaire between them. For more than a century past the nobility
have selected the walk on the south side, which is bordered with large
mansions, and is the first to escape the heat of the sun; the lower
classes have to rest content with the walk on the north, where the
cafes, inns, and tobacconists' shops are located. The people and the
nobility promenade the whole afternoon, walking up and down the Cours
without anyone of either party thinking of changing sides. They are only
separated by a distance of some seven or eight yards, yet it is as if
they were a thousand leagues away from each other, for they scrupulously
follow those two parallel lines, as though they must not come in contact
here below. Even during the revolutionary periods each party kept to
its own side. This regulation walk on Sunday and the locking of the town
gates in the evening are analogous instances which suffice to indicate
the character of the ten thousand people inhabiting the town.

Here, amidst these surroundings, until the year 1848, there vegetated
an obscure family that enjoyed little esteem, but whose head, Pierre
Rougon, subsequently played an important part in life owing to certain

Pierre Rougon was the son of a peasant. His mother's family, the
Fouques, owned, towards the end of the last century, a large plot of
ground in the Faubourg, behind the old cemetery of Saint-Mittre; this
ground was subsequently joined to the Jas-Meiffren. The Fouques were the
richest market-gardeners in that part of the country; they supplied an
entire district of Plassans with vegetables. However, their name
died out a few years before the Revolution. Only one girl, Adelaide,
remained; born in 1768, she had become an orphan at the age of eighteen.
This girl, whose father had died insane, was a long, lank, pale
creature, with a scared look and strange ways which one might have taken
for shyness so long as she was a little girl. As she grew up,
however, she became still stranger; she did certain things which were
inexplicable even to the cleverest folk of the Faubourg, and from that
time it was rumoured that she was cracked like her father.

She had scarcely been an orphan six months, in possession of a fortune
which rendered her an eagerly sought heiress, when it transpired that
she had married a young gardener named Rougon, a rough-hewn peasant from
the Basses-Alpes. This Rougon, after the death of the last of the male
Fouques, who had engaged him for a term, had remained in the service
of the deceased's daughter. From the situation of salaried servant he
ascended rapidly to the enviable position of husband. This marriage was
a first shock to public opinion. No one could comprehend why Adelaide
preferred this poor fellow, coarse, heavy, vulgar, scarce able to speak
French, to those other young men, sons of well-to-do farmers, who had
been seen hovering round her for some time. And, as provincial people do
not allow anything to remain unexplained, they made sure there was some
mystery at the bottom of this affair, alleging even that the marriage of
the two young people had become an absolute necessity. But events proved
the falsity of the accusation. More than a year went by before Adelaide
had a son. The Faubourg was annoyed; it could not admit that it was
wrong, and determined to penetrate the supposed mystery; accordingly all
the gossips kept a watch upon the Rougons. They soon found ample matter
for tittle-tattle. Rougon died almost suddenly, fifteen months after his
marriage, from a sunstroke received one afternoon while he was weeding a
bed of carrots.

Scarcely a year then elapsed before the young widow caused unheard-of
scandal. It became known, as an indisputable fact, that she had a lover.
She did not appear to make any secret of it; several persons asserted
that they had heard her use endearing terms in public to poor Rougon's
successor. Scarcely a year of widowhood and a lover already! Such a
disregard of propriety seemed monstrous out of all reason. And the
scandal was heightened by Adelaide's strange choice. At that time there
dwelt at the end of the Impasse Saint-Mittre, in a hovel the back
of which abutted on the Fouques' land, a man of bad repute, who was
generally referred to as "that scoundrel Macquart." This man would
vanish for weeks and then turn up some fine evening, sauntering about
with his hands in his pockets and whistling as though he had just
come from a short walk. And the women sitting at their doorsteps as he
passed: "There's that scoundrel Macquart! He has hidden his bales and
his gun in some hollow of the Viorne." The truth was, Macquart had
no means, and yet ate and drank like a happy drone during his short
sojourns in the town. He drank copiously and with fierce obstinacy.
Seating himself alone at a table in some tavern, he would linger there
evening after evening, with his eyes stupidly fixed on his glass,
neither seeing nor hearing anything around him. When the landlord closed
his establishment, he would retire with a firm step, with his head
raised, as if he were kept yet more erect by inebriation. "Macquart
walks so straight, he's surely dead drunk," people used to say, as they
saw him going home. Usually, when he had had no drink, he walked with
a slight stoop and shunned the gaze of curious people with a kind of
savage shyness.

Since the death of his father, a journeyman tanner who had left him as
sole heritage the hovel in the Impasse Saint-Mittre, he had never
been known to have either relatives or friends. The proximity of the
frontiers and the neighbouring forests of the Seille had turned this
singular, lazy fellow into a combination of smuggler and poacher, one
of those suspicious-looking characters of whom passers-by observe: "I
shouldn't care to meet that man at midnight in a dark wood." Tall, with
a formidable beard and lean face, Macquart was the terror of the
good women of the Faubourg of Plassans; they actually accused him of
devouring little children raw. Though he was hardly thirty years old,
he looked fifty. Amidst his bushy beard and the locks of hair which hung
over his face in poodle fashion, one could only distinguish the gleam
of his brown eyes, the furtive sorrowful glance of a man of vagrant
instincts, rendered vicious by wine and a pariah life. Although no
crimes had actually been brought home to him, no theft or murder was
ever perpetrated in the district without suspicion at once falling upon

And it was this ogre, this brigand, this scoundrel Macquart, whom
Adelaide had chosen! In twenty months she had two children by him, first
a boy and then a girl. There was no question of marriage between
them. Never had the Faubourg beheld such audacious impropriety. The
stupefaction was so great, the idea of Macquart having found a young and
wealthy mistress so completely upset the gossips, that they even spoke
gently of Adelaide. "Poor thing! She's gone quite mad," they would say.
"If she had any relatives she would have been placed in confinement long
ago." And as they never knew anything of the history of those strange
amours, they accused that rogue Macquart of having taken advantage of
Adelaide's weak mind to rob her of her money.

The legitimate son, little Pierre Rougon, grew up with his mother's
other offspring. The latter, Antoine and Ursule, the young wolves as
they were called in the district, were kept at home by Adelaide, who
treated them as affectionately as her first child. She did not appear to
entertain a very clear idea of the position in life reserved for these
two poor creatures. To her they were the same in every respect as her
first-born. She would sometimes go out holding Pierre with one hand and
Antoine with the other, never noticing how differently the two little
fellows were already regarded.

It was a strange home. For nearly twenty years everyone lived there
after his or her fancy, the children like the mother. Everything went
on free from control. In growing to womanhood, Adelaide had retained the
strangeness which had been taken for shyness when she was fifteen. It
was not that she was insane, as the people of the Faubourg asserted,
but there was a lack of equilibrium between her nerves and her blood,
a disorder of the brain and heart which made her lead a life out of
the ordinary, different from that of the rest of the world. She was
certainly very natural, very consistent with herself; but in the eyes of
the neighbours her consistency became pure insanity. She seemed
desirous of making herself conspicuous, it was thought she was wickedly
determined to turn things at home from bad to worse, whereas with great
naivete she simply acted according to the impulses of her nature.

Ever since giving birth to her first child she had been subject to
nervous fits which brought on terrible convulsions.

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