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In his plump person of medium
height, in his long pale face, in which the features derived from his
father had acquired some of the maternal refinement, one could already
detect signs of sly and crafty ambition and insatiable desire, with
the hardness of heart and envious hatred of a peasant's son whom his
mother's means and nervous temperament had turned into a member of the
middle classes.

When, at the age of seventeen, Pierre observed and was able to
understand Adelaide's disorders and the singular position of Antoine and
Ursule, he seemed neither sorry nor indignant, but simply worried as to
the course which would best serve his own interests. He was the only
one of the three children who had pursued his studies with any industry.
When a peasant begins to feel the need of instruction he most frequently
becomes a fierce calculator. At school Pierre's playmates roused his
first suspicions by the manner in which they treated and hooted his
brother. Later on he came to understand the significance of many looks
and words. And at last he clearly saw that the house was being pillaged.
From that time forward he regarded Antoine and Ursule as shameless
parasites, mouths that were devouring his own substance. Like the people
of the Faubourg, he thought that his mother was a fit subject for a
lunatic asylum, and feared she would end by squandering all her money,
if he did not take steps to prevent it. What gave him the finishing
stroke was the dishonesty of the gardener who cultivated the land.
At this, in one day, the unruly child was transformed into a thrifty,
selfish lad, hurriedly matured, as regards his instincts, by the strange
improvident life which he could no longer bear to see around him without
a feeling of anguish. Those vegetables, from the sale of which the
market-gardener derived the largest profits, really belonged to him;
the wine which his mother's offspring drank, the bread they ate, also
belonged to him. The whole house, the entire fortune, was his by right;
according to his boorish logic, he alone, the legitimate son, was
the heir. And as his riches were in danger, as everybody was greedily
gnawing at his future fortune, he sought a means of turning them all
out--mother, brother, sister, servants--and of succeeding immediately to
his inheritance.

The conflict was a cruel one; the lad knew that he must first strike his
mother. Step by step, with patient tenacity, he executed a plan whose
every detail he had long previously thought out. His tactics were to
appear before Adelaide like a living reproach--not that he flew into
a passion, or upbraided her for her misconduct; but he had acquired a
certain manner of looking at her, without saying a word, which terrified
her. Whenever she returned from a short sojourn in Macquart's hovel she
could not turn her eyes on her son without a shudder. She felt his cold
glances, as sharp as steel blades pierce her deeply and pitilessly. The
severe, taciturn demeanour of the child of the man whom she had so soon
forgotten strangely troubled her poor disordered brain. She would fancy
at times that Rougon had risen from the dead to punish her for her
dissoluteness. Every week she fell into one of those nervous fits which
were shattering her constitution. She was left to struggle until she
recovered consciousness, after which she would creep about more feebly
than ever. She would also often sob the whole night long, holding her
head in her hands, and accepting the wounds that Pierre dealt her with
resignation, as if they had been the strokes of an avenging deity. At
other times she repudiated him; she would not acknowledge her own
flesh and blood in that heavy-faced lad, whose calmness chilled her own
feverishness so painfully. She would a thousand times rather have been
beaten than glared at like that. Those implacable looks, which followed
her everywhere, threw her at last into such unbearable torments that
on several occasions she determined to see her lover no more. As soon,
however, as Macquart returned she forgot her vows and hastened to him.
The conflict with her son began afresh, silent and terrible, when she
came back home. At the end of a few months she fell completely under his
sway. She stood before him like a child doubtful of her behaviour and
fearing that she deserves a whipping. Pierre had skilfully bound her
hand and foot, and made a very submissive servant of her, without
opening his lips, without once entering into difficult and compromising

When the young man felt that his mother was in his power, that he could
treat her like a slave, he began, in his own interest, to turn her
cerebral weakness and the foolish terror with which his glances inspired
her to his own advantage. His first care, as soon as he was master at
home, was to dismiss the market-gardener and replace him by one of his
own creatures. Then he took upon himself the supreme direction of the
household, selling, buying, and holding the cash-box. On the other hand,
he made no attempt to regulate Adelaide's actions, or to correct Antoine
and Ursule for their laziness. That mattered little to him, for he
counted upon getting rid of these people as soon as an opportunity
presented itself. He contented himself with portioning out their bread
and water. Then, having already got all the property in his own hands,
he awaited an event which would permit him to dispose of it as he

Circumstances proved singularly favourable. He escaped the conscription
on the ground of being a widow's eldest son. But two years later Antoine
was called out. His bad luck did not affect him much; he counted on his
mother purchasing a substitute for him. Adelaide, in fact, wished to
save him from serving; Pierre, however, who held the money, turned a
deaf ear to her. His brother's compulsory departure would be a lucky
event for him, and greatly assist the accomplishment of his plans. When
his mother mentioned the matter to him, he gave her such a look that
she did not venture to pursue it. His glance plainly signified, "Do you
wish, then, to ruin me for the sake of your illegitimate offspring?"
Forthwith she selfishly abandoned Antoine, for before everything else
she sought her own peace and quietness. Pierre, who did not like violent
measures, and who rejoiced at being able to eject his brother without a
disturbance, then played the part of a man in despair: the year had been
a bad one, money was scarce, and to raise any he would be compelled to
sell a portion of the land, which would be the beginning of their ruin.
Then he pledged his word of honour to Antoine that he would buy him out
the following year, though he meant to do nothing of the kind. Antoine
then went off, duped, and half satisfied.

Pierre got rid of Ursule in a still more unexpected manner. A journeyman
hatter of the Faubourg, named Mouret, conceived a real affection for the
girl, whom he thought as white and delicate as any young lady from the
Saint-Marc quarter. He married her. On his part it was a love match,
free from all sordid motives. As for Ursule, she accepted the marriage
in order to escape a home where her eldest brother rendered life
intolerable. Her mother, absorbed in her own courses, and using her
remaining energy to defend her own particular interests, regarded
the matter with absolute indifference. She was even glad of Ursule's
departure from the house, hoping that Pierre, now that he had no further
cause for dissatisfaction, would let her live in peace after her
own fashion. No sooner had the young people been married than Mouret
perceived that he would have to quit Plassans, if he did not wish to
hear endless disparaging remarks about his wife and his mother-in-law.
Taking Ursule with him, he accordingly repaired to Marseilles, where he
worked at his trade. It should be mentioned that he had not asked
for one sou of dowry. When Pierre, somewhat surprised by this
disinterestedness, commenced to stammer out some explanations, Mouret
closed his mouth by saying that he preferred to earn his wife's bread.
Nevertheless the worthy son of the peasant remained uneasy; Mouret's
indifference seemed to him to conceal some trap.

Adelaide now remained to be disposed of. Nothing in the world would have
induced Pierre to live with her any longer. She was compromising him;
it was with her that he would have liked to make a start. But he found
himself between two very embarrassing alternatives: to keep her, and
thus, in a measure, share her disgrace, and bind a fetter to his feet
which would arrest him in his ambitious flight; or to turn her out, with
the certainty of being pointed at as a bad son, which would have robbed
him of the reputation for good nature which he desired. Knowing that he
would be in want of everybody, he desired to secure an untarnished
name throughout Plassans. There was but one method to adopt, namely, to
induce Adelaide to leave of her own accord. Pierre neglected nothing to
accomplish this end. He considered his mother's misconduct a sufficient
excuse for his own hard-heartedness. He punished her as one would
chastise a child. The tables were turned. The poor woman cowered under
the stick which, figuratively, was constantly held over her. She was
scarcely forty-two years old, and already had the stammerings of
terror, and vague, pitiful looks of an old woman in her dotage. Her son
continued to stab her with his piercing glances, hoping that she would
run away when her courage was exhausted. The unfortunate woman suffered
terribly from shame, restrained desire and enforced cowardice, receiving
the blows dealt her with passive resignation, and nevertheless returning
to Macquart with the determination to die on the spot rather than
submit. There were nights when she would have got out of bed, and thrown
herself into the Viorne, if with her weak, nervous, nature she had not
felt the greatest fear of death. On several occasions she thought of
running away and joining her lover on the frontier. It was only
because she did not know whither to go that she remained in the house,
submitting to her son's contemptuous silence and secret brutality.
Pierre divined that she would have left long ago if she had only had a

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