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was at a loss how to repay such an honour. The education of the three
lads weighed seriously on the budget of the Rougon household.

Until the boys had taken their degrees, their parents, who kept them at
college at enormous sacrifices, lived in hopes of their success. When
they had obtained their diplomas Felicite wished to continue her work,
and even persuaded her husband to send the three to Paris. Two of them
devoted themselves to the study of law, and the third passed through
the School of Medicine. Then, when they were men, and had exhausted the
resources of the Rougon family and were obliged to return and establish
themselves in the provinces, their parents' disenchantment began. They
idled about and grew fat. And Felicite again felt all the bitterness of
her ill-luck. Her sons were failing her. They had ruined her, and did
not return any interest on the capital which they represented. This
last blow of fate was the heaviest, as it fell on her ambition and her
maternal vanity alike. Rougon repeated to her from morning till night,
"I told you so!" which only exasperated her the more.

One day, as she was bitterly reproaching her eldest son with the large
amount of money expended on his education, he said to her with equal
bitterness, "I will repay you later on if I can. But as you had no
means, you should have brought us up to a trade. We are out of our
element, we are suffering more than you."

Felicite understood the wisdom of these words. From that time she ceased
to accuse her children, and turned her anger against fate, which never
wearied of striking her. She started her old complaints afresh, and
bemoaned more and more the want of means which made her strand, as it
were, in port. Whenever Rougon said to her, "Your sons are lazy fellows,
they will eat up all we have," she sourly replied, "Would to God I had
more money to give them; if they do vegetate, poor fellows, it's because
they haven't got a sou to bless themselves with."

At the beginning of the year 1848, on the eve of the Revolution of
February, the three young Rougons held very precarious positions
at Plassans. They presented most curious and profoundly dissimilar
characteristics, though they came of the same stock. They were in
reality superior to their parents. The race of the Rougons was destined
to become refined through its female side. Adelaide had made Pierre
a man of moderate enterprise, disposed to low ambitions; Felicite
had inspired her sons with a higher intelligence, with a capacity for
greater vices and greater virtues.

At the period now referred to the eldest, Eugene, was nearly forty years
old. He was a man of middle height, slightly bald, and already disposed
to obesity. He had his father's face, a long face with broad features;
beneath his skin one could divine the fat to which were due the flabby
roundness of his features, and his yellowish, waxy complexion. Though
his massive square head still recalled the peasant, his physiognomy was
transfigured, lit up from within as it were, when his drooping eyelids
were raised and his eyes awoke to life. In the son's case, the father's
ponderousness had turned to gravity. This big fellow, Eugene, usually
preserved a heavy somnolent demeanour. At the same time, certain of his
heavy, languid movements suggested those of a giant stretching his limbs
pending the time for action. By one of those alleged freaks of nature,
of which, however, science is now commencing to discover the laws, if
physical resemblance to Pierre was perfect in Eugene, Felicite on
her side seemed to have furnished him with his brains. He offered an
instance of certain moral and intellectual qualities of maternal origin
being embedded in the coarse flesh he had derived from his father. He
cherished lofty ambitions, possessed domineering instincts, and showed
singular contempt for trifling expedients and petty fortunes.

He was a proof that Plassans was perhaps not mistaken in suspecting that
Felicite had some blue blood in her veins. The passion for indulgence,
which became formidably developed in the Rougons, and was, in fact, the
family characteristic, attained in his case its highest pitch; he longed
for self-gratification, but in the form of mental enjoyment such as
would gratify his burning desire for domination. A man such as this was
never intended to succeed in a provincial town. He vegetated there
for fifteen years, his eyes turned towards Paris, watching his
opportunities. On his return home he had entered his name on the rolls,
in order to be independent of his parents. After that he pleaded from
time to time, earning a bare livelihood, without appearing to rise above
average mediocrity. At Plassans his voice was considered thick, his
movements heavy. He generally wandered from the question at issue,
rambled, as the wiseacres expressed it. On one occasion particularly,
when he was pleading in a case for damages, he so forgot himself as to
stray into a political disquisition, to such a point that the presiding
judge interfered, whereupon he immediately sat down with a strange
smile. His client was condemned to pay a considerable sum of money,
a circumstance which did not, however, seem to cause Eugene the least
regret for his irrelevant digression. He appeared to regard his speeches
as mere exercises which would be of use to him later on. It was this
that puzzled and disheartened Felicite. She would have liked to see her
son dictating the law to the Civil Court of Plassans. At last she came
to entertain a very unfavourable opinion of her first-born. To her
mind this lazy fellow would never be the one to shed any lustre on the
family. Pierre, on the contrary, felt absolute confidence in him,
not that he had more intuition than his wife, but because external
appearances sufficed him, and he flattered himself by believing in
the genius of a son who was his living image. A month prior to the
Revolution of February, 1848, Eugene became restless; some special
inspiration made him anticipate the crisis. From that time forward he
seemed to feel out of his element at Plassans. He would wander about the
streets like a distressed soul. At last he formed a sudden resolution,
and left for Paris, with scarcely five hundred francs in his pocket.

Aristide, the youngest son, was, so to speak, diametrically opposed
to Eugene. He had his mother's face, and a covetousness and slyness of
character prone to trivial intrigues, in which his father's instincts
predominated. Nature has need of symmetry. Short, with a pitiful
countenance suggesting the knob of a stick carved into a Punch's head,
Aristide ferretted and fumbled everywhere, without any scruples, eager
only to gratify himself. He loved money as his eldest brother loved
power. While Eugene dreamed of bending a people to his will, and
intoxicated himself with visions of future omnipotence, the other
fancied himself ten times a millionaire, installed in a princely
mansion, eating and drinking to his heart's content, and enjoying life
to the fullest possible extent. Above all things, he longed to make a
rapid fortune. When he was building his castles in the air, they would
rise in his mind as if by magic; he would become possessed of tons of
gold in one night. These visions agreed with his indolence, as he never
troubled himself about the means, considering those the best which were
the most expeditious. In his case the race of the Rougons, of those
coarse, greedy peasants with brutish appetites, had matured too rapidly;
every desire for material indulgence was found in him, augmented
threefold by hasty education, and rendered the more insatiable and
dangerous by the deliberate way in which the young man had come to
regard their realisation as his set purpose. In spite of her keen
feminine intuition, Felicite preferred this son; she did not perceive
the greater affinity between herself and Eugene; she excused the follies
and indolence of her youngest son under the pretext that he would
some day be the superior genius of the family, and that such a man
was entitled to live a disorderly life until his intellectual strength
should be revealed.

Aristide subjected her indulgence to a rude test. In Paris he led a low,
idle life; he was one of those students who enter their names at the
taverns of the Quartier Latin. He did not remain there, however, more
than two years; his father, growing apprehensive, and seeing that he had
not yet passed a single examination, kept him at Plassans and spoke of
finding a wife for him, hoping that domestic responsibility would make
him more steady. Aristide let himself be married. He had no very
clear idea of his own ambitions at this time; provincial life did not
displease him; he was battening in his little town--eating, sleeping,
and sauntering about. Felicite pleaded his cause so earnestly that
Pierre consented to board and lodge the newly-married couple, on
condition that the young man should turn his attention to the business.
From that time, however, Aristide led a life of ease and idleness. He
spent his days and the best part of his nights at the club, again and
again slipping out of his father's office like a schoolboy to go and
gamble away the few louis that his mother gave him clandestinely.

It is necessary to have lived in the depths of the French provinces to
form an idea of the four brutifying years which the young fellow spent
in this fashion. In every little town there is a group of individuals
who thus live on their parents, pretending at times to work, but in
reality cultivating idleness with a sort of religious zeal. Aristide was
typical of these incorrigible drones. For four years he did little
but play ecarte. While he passed his time at the club, his wife, a
fair-complexioned nerveless woman, helped to ruin the Rougon business
by her inordinate passion for showy gowns and her formidable appetite,
a rather remarkable peculiarity in so frail a creature. Angele, however,
adored sky-blue ribbons and roast beef. She was the daughter of a
retired captain who was called Commander Sicardot, a good-hearted old
gentleman, who had given her a dowry of ten thousand francs--all his

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