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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. These fits recurred
periodically, every two or three months. The doctors whom she consulted
declared they could do nothing for her, that age would weaken the
severity of the attacks. They simply prescribed a dietary regimen of
underdone meat and quinine wine. However, these repeated shocks led to
cerebral disorder. She lived on from day to day like a child, like
a fawning animal yielding to its instincts. When Macquart was on his
rounds, she passed her time in lazy, pensive idleness. All she did for
her children was to kiss and play with them. Then as soon as her lover
returned she would disappear.

Behind Macquart's hovel there was a little yard, separated from the
Fouques' property by a wall. One morning the neighbours were much
astonished to find in this wall a door which had not been there the
previous evening. Before an hour had elapsed, the entire Faubourg had
flocked to the neighbouring windows. The lovers must have worked the
whole night to pierce the opening and place the door there. They could
now go freely from one house to the other. The scandal was revived,
everyone felt less pity for Adelaide, who was certainly the disgrace
of the suburb; she was reproached more wrathfully for that door, that
tacit, brutal admission of her union, than even for her two illegitimate
children. "People should at least study appearances," the most tolerant
women would say. But Adelaide did not understand what was meant by
studying appearances. She was very happy, very proud of her door; she
had assisted Macquart to knock the stones from the wall and had even
mixed the mortar so that the work might proceed the quicker; and she
came with childish delight to inspect the work by daylight on the
morrow--an act which was deemed a climax of shamelessness by three
gossips who observed her contemplating the masonry. From that date,
whenever Macquart reappeared, it was thought, as no one then ever
saw the young woman, that she was living with him in the hovel of the
Impasse Saint-Mittre.

The smuggler would come very irregularly, almost always unexpectedly,
to Plassans. Nobody ever knew what life the lovers led during the two
or three days he spent there at distant intervals. They used to shut
themselves up; the little dwelling seemed uninhabited. Then, as the
gossips had declared that Macquart had simply seduced Adelaide in order
to spend her money, they were astonished, after a time, to see him still
lead his wonted life, ever up hill and down dale and as badly equipped
as previously. Perhaps the young woman loved him all the more for
seeing him at rare intervals, perhaps he had disregarded her entreaties,
feeling an irresistible desire for a life of adventure. The gossips
invented a thousand fables, without succeeding in giving any reasonable
explanation of a connection which had originated and continued in so
strange a manner. The hovel in the Impasse Saint-Mittre remained closed
and preserved its secrets. It was merely guessed that Macquart had
probably acquired the habit of beating Adelaide, although the sound of
a quarrel never issued from the house. However, on several occasions she
was seen with her face black and blue, and her hair torn away. At the
same time, she did not display the least dejection or grief, nor did she
seek in any way to hide her bruises. She smiled, and seemed happy. No
doubt she allowed herself to be beaten without breathing a word. This
existence lasted for more than fifteen years.

At times when Adelaide returned home she would find her house upside
down, but would not take the least notice of it. She was utterly
ignorant of the practical meaning of life, of the proper value of things
and the necessity for order. She let her children grow up like those
plum-trees which sprout along the highways at the pleasure of the rain
and sun. They bore their natural fruits like wild stock which has never
known grafting or pruning. Never was nature allowed such complete sway,
never did such mischievous creatures grow up more freely under the sole
influence of instinct. They rolled among the vegetables, passed their
days in the open air playing and fighting like good-for-nothing urchins.
They stole provisions from the house and pillaged the few fruit-trees in
the enclosure; they were the plundering, squalling, familiar demons of
this strange abode of lucid insanity. When their mother was absent
for days together, they would make such an uproar, and hit upon such
diabolical devices for annoying people, that the neighbours had to
threaten them with a whipping. Moreover, Adelaide did not inspire them
with much fear; if they were less obnoxious to other people when she was
at home, it was because they made her their victim, shirking school
five or six times a week and doing everything they could to receive some
punishment which would allow them to squall to their hearts' content.
But she never beat them, nor even lost her temper; she lived on very
well, placidly, indolently, in a state of mental abstraction amidst all
the uproar. At last, indeed, this uproar became indispensable to her,
to fill the void in her brain. She smiled complacently when she heard
anyone say, "Her children will beat her some day, and it will serve her
right." To all remarks, her utter indifference seemed to reply, "What
does it matter?" She troubled even less about her property than about
her children. The Fouques' enclosure, during the many years that this
singular existence lasted would have become a piece of waste ground
if the young woman had not luckily entrusted the cultivation of her
vegetables to a clever market-gardener. This man, who was to share the
profits with her, robbed her impudently, though she never noticed it.
This circumstance had its advantages, however; for, in order to steal
the more, the gardener drew as much as possible from the land, which in
the result almost doubled in value.

Pierre, the legitimate son, either from secret instinct or from his
knowledge of the different manner in which he and the others were
regarded by the neighbours, domineered over his brother and sister
from an early age. In their quarrels, although he was much weaker than
Antoine, he always got the better of the contest, beating the other with
all the authority of a master. With regard to Ursule, a poor, puny, wan
little creature, she was handled with equal roughness by both the
boys. Indeed, until they were fifteen or sixteen, the three children
fraternally beat each other without understanding their vague, mutual
hatred, without realising how foreign they were to one another. It was
only in youth that they found themselves face to face with definite,
self-conscious personalities.

At sixteen, Antoine was a tall fellow, a blend of Macquart's and
Adelaide's failings. Macquart, however, predominated in him, with his
love of vagrancy, his tendency to drunkenness, and his brutish savagery.
At the same time, under the influence of Adelaide's nervous nature, the
vices which in the father assumed a kind of sanguinary frankness were
in the son tinged with an artfulness full of hypocrisy and cowardice.
Antoine resembled his mother by his total want of dignified will, by his
effeminate voluptuous egotism, which disposed him to accept any bed of
infamy provided he could lounge upon it at his ease and sleep warmly in
it. People said of him: "Ah! the brigand! He hasn't even the courage of
his villainy like Macquart; if ever he commits a murder, it will be with
pin pricks." Physically, Antoine inherited Adelaide's thick lips only;
his other features resembled those of the smuggler, but they were softer
and more prone to change of expression.

In Ursule, on the other hand, physical and moral resemblance to the
mother predominated. There was a mixture of certain characteristics in
her also; but born the last, at a time when Adelaide's love was warmer
than Macquart's, the poor little thing seemed to have received with her
sex a deeper impress of her mother's temperament. Moreover, hers was not
a fusion of the two natures, but rather a juxtaposition, a remarkably
close soldering. Ursule was whimsical, and displayed at times the
shyness, the melancholy, and the transports of a pariah; then she would
often break out into nervous fits of laughter, and muse lazily, like
a woman unsound both in head and heart. Her eyes, which at times had
a scared expression like those of Adelaide, were as limpid as crystal,
similar to those of kittens doomed to die of consumption.

In presence of those two illegitimate children Pierre seemed a stranger;
to one who had not penetrated to the roots of his being he would have
appeared profoundly dissimilar. Never did child's nature show a more
equal balance of the characteristics of its parents. He was the exact
mean between the peasant Rougon and the nervous Adelaide. Paternal
grossness was attenuated by the maternal influence. One found in him the
first phase of that evolution of temperaments which ultimately brings
about the amelioration or deterioration of a race. Although he was still
a peasant, his skin was less coarse, his face less heavy, his intellect
more capacious and more supple. In him the defects of his father and his
mother had advantageously reacted upon each other. If Adelaide's nature,
rendered exquisitely sensitive by her rebellious nerves, had combated
and lessened Rougon's full-bodied ponderosity, the latter had
successfully prevented the young woman's tendency to cerebral disorder
from being implanted in the child. Pierre knew neither the passions nor
the sickly ravings of Macquart's young whelps. Very badly brought up,
unruly and noisy, like all children who are not restrained during their
infancy, he nevertheless possessed at bottom such sense and intelligence
as would always preserve him from perpetrating any unproductive folly.
His vices, his laziness, his appetite for indulgence, lacked the
instinctiveness which characterised Antoine's; he meant to cultivate
and gratify them honourably and openly.

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