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In fact, Felicite
had the hands and feet of a marchioness, and, in this respect, did not
appear to belong to that class of workers from which she was descended.

Her marriage with Pierre Rougon, that semi-peasant, that man of the
Faubourg, whose family was in such bad odour, kept the old quarter in
a state of astonishment for more than a month. She let people gossip,
however, receiving the stiff congratulations of her friends with strange
smiles. Her calculations had been made; she had chosen Rougon for a
husband as one would choose an accomplice. Her father, in accepting the
young man, had merely had eyes for the fifty thousand francs which were
to save him from bankruptcy. Felicite, however, was more keen-sighted.
She looked into the future, and felt that she would be in want of a
robust man, even if he were somewhat rustic, behind whom she might
conceal herself, and whose limbs she would move at will. She entertained
a deliberate hatred for the insignificant little exquisites of
provincial towns, the lean herd of notaries' clerks and prospective
barristers, who stand shivering with cold while waiting for clients.
Having no dowry, and despairing of ever marrying a rich merchant's son,
she by far preferred a peasant whom she could use as a passive tool,
to some lank graduate who would overwhelm her with his academical
superiority, and drag her about all her life in search of hollow
vanities. She was of opinion that the woman ought to make the man. She
believed herself capable of carving a minister out of a cow-herd. That
which had attracted her in Rougon was his broad chest, his heavy frame,
which was not altogether wanting in elegance. A man thus built would
bear with ease and sprightliness the mass of intrigues which she
dreamt of placing on his shoulders. However, while she appreciated her
husband's strength and vigour, she also perceived that he was far
from being a fool; under his coarse flesh she had divined the cunning
suppleness of his mind. Still she was a long way from really knowing her
Rougon; she thought him far stupider than he was. A few days after her
marriage, as she was by chance fumbling in the drawer of a secretaire,
she came across the receipt for fifty thousand francs which Adelaide
had signed. At sight of it she understood things, and felt rather
frightened; her own natural average honesty rendered her hostile to such
expedients. Her terror, however, was not unmixed with admiration; Rougon
became in her eyes a very smart fellow.

The young couple bravely sought to conquer fortune. The firm of Puech
& Lacamp was not, after all, so embarrassed as Pierre had thought. Its
liabilities were small, it was merely in want of ready-money. In the
provinces, traders adopt prudent courses to save them from serious
disasters. Puech & Lacamp were prudent to an excessive degree; they
never risked a thousand crowns without the greatest fear, and thus their
house, a veritable hole, was an unimportant one. The fifty thousand
francs that Pierre brought into it sufficed to pay the debts and extend
the business. The beginnings were good. During three successive years
the olive harvest was an abundant one. Felicite, by a bold stroke which
absolutely frightened both Pierre and old Puech, made them purchase
a considerable quantity of oil, which they stored in their warehouse.
During the following years, as the young woman had foreseen, the crops
failed, and a considerable rise in prices having set in, they realised
large profits by selling out their stock.

A short time after this haul, Puech & Lacamp retired from the firm,
content with the few sous they had just secured, and ambitious of living
on their incomes.

The young couple now had sole control of the business, and thought
that they had at last laid the foundation of their fortune. "You have
vanquished my ill-luck," Felicite would sometimes say to her husband.

One of the rare weaknesses of her energetic nature was to believe
herself stricken by misfortune. Hitherto, so she asserted, nothing had
been successful with either herself or her father, in spite of all their
efforts. Goaded by her southern superstition, she prepared to struggle
with fate as one struggles with somebody who is endeavouring to strangle
one. Circumstances soon justified her apprehensions in a singular
manner. Ill-luck returned inexorably. Every year some fresh disaster
shook Rougon's business. A bankruptcy resulted in the loss of a few
thousand francs; his estimates of crops proved incorrect, through
the most incredible circumstances; the safest speculations collapsed
miserably. It was a truceless, merciless combat.

"You see I was born under an unlucky star!" Felicite would bitterly

And yet she still struggled furiously, not understanding how it was that
she, who had shown such keen scent in a first speculation, could now
only give her husband the most deplorable advice.

Pierre, dejected and less tenacious than herself, would have gone
into liquidation a score of times had it not been for his wife's firm
obstinacy. She longed to be rich. She perceived that her ambition could
only be attained by fortune. As soon as they possessed a few hundred
thousand francs they would be masters of the town. She would get her
husband appointed to an important post, and she would govern. It was
not the attainment of honours which troubled her; she felt herself
marvellously well armed for such a combat. But she could do nothing to
get together the first few bags of money which were needed. Though the
ruling of men caused her no apprehensions, she felt a sort of impotent
rage at the thought of those inert, white, cold, five-franc pieces over
which her intriguing spirit had no power, and which obstinately resisted

The battle lasted for more than thirty years. The death of Puech proved
another heavy blow. Felicite, who had counted upon an inheritance of
about forty thousand francs, found that the selfish old man, in order
to indulge himself in his old age, had sunk all his money in a life
annuity. The discovery made her quite ill. She was gradually becoming
soured, she was growing more lean and harsh. To see her, from morning
till night, whirling round the jars of oil, one would have thought she
believed that she could stimulate the sales by continually flitting
about like a restless fly. Her husband, on the contrary, became heavier;
misfortune fattened him, making him duller and more indolent. These
thirty years of combat did not, however, bring him to ruin. At each
annual stock-taking they managed to make both ends meet fairly well; if
they suffered any loss during one season, they recouped themselves the
next. However, it was precisely this living from hand to mouth which
exasperated Felicite. She would, by far, have preferred a big failure.
They would then, perhaps, have been able to commence life over again,
instead of obstinately persisting in their petty business, working
themselves to death to gain the bare necessaries of life. During one
third of a century they did not save fifty thousand francs.

It should be mentioned that, from the very first years of their married
life, they had a numerous family, which in the long run became a heavy
burden to them. In the course of five years, from 1811 to 1815, Felicite
gave birth to three boys. Then during the four ensuing years she
presented her husband with two girls. These had but an indifferent
welcome; daughters are a terrible embarrassment when one has no dowry to
give them.

However, the young woman did not regard this troop of children as the
cause of their ruin. On the contrary, she based on her sons' heads the
building of the fortune which was crumbling in her own hands. They were
hardly ten years old before she discounted their future careers in her
dreams. Doubting whether she would ever succeed herself, she centred
in them all her hopes of overcoming the animosity of fate. They would
provide satisfaction for her disappointed vanity, they would give her
that wealthy, honourable position which she had hitherto sought in vain.
From that time forward, without abandoning the business struggle,
she conceived a second plan for obtaining the gratification of her
domineering instincts. It seemed to her impossible that, amongst her
three sons, there should not be a man of superior intellect, who would
enrich them all. She felt it, she said. Accordingly, she nursed the
children with a fervour in which maternal severity was blended with an
usurer's solicitude. She amused herself by fattening them as though they
constituted a capital which, later on, would return a large interest.

"Enough!" Pierre would sometimes exclaim, "all children are ungrateful.
You are spoiling them, you are ruining us."

When Felicite spoke of sending them to college, he got angry. Latin was
a useless luxury, it would be quite sufficient if they went through
the classes of a little neighbouring school The young woman, however,
persisted in her design. She possessed certain elevated instincts which
made her take a great pride in surrounding herself with accomplished
children; moreover, she felt that her sons must never remain as
illiterate as her husband, if she wished to see them become prominent
men. She fancied them all three in Paris in high positions, which she
did not clearly define. When Rougon consented, and the three youngsters
had entered the eighth class, Felicite felt the most lively satisfaction
she had ever experienced. She listened with delight as they talked of
their professors and their studies. When she heard her eldest son make
one of his brothers decline _Rosa, a rose_, it sounded like delicious
music to her. It is only fair to add that her delight was not tarnished
by any sordid calculations. Even Rougon felt the satisfaction which an
illiterate man experiences on perceiving his sons grow more learned than
himself. Then the fellowship which grew up between their sons and
those of the local big-wigs completed the parents' gratification. The
youngsters were soon on familiar terms with the sons of the Mayor and
the Sub-Prefect, and even with two or three young noblemen whom the
Saint-Marc quarter had deigned to send to the Plassans College.

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