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Their sons, by disappointing their expectations,
had dealt them the final blow. Now that they despaired of ever being
enriched by them, they were anxious to make some little provision for
old age. They retired with forty thousand francs at the utmost. This
sum provided an annual income of two thousand francs, just sufficient
to live in a small way in the provinces. Fortunately, they were by
themselves, having succeeded in marrying their daughters Marthe and
Sidonie, the former of whom resided at Marseilles and the latter in

After they had settled their affairs they would much have liked to take
up their abode in the new town, the quarter of the retired traders, but
they dared not do so. Their income was too small; they were afraid that
they would cut but a poor figure there. So, as a sort of compromise,
they took apartments in the Rue de la Banne, the street which separates
the old quarter from the new one. As their abode was one of the row
of houses bordering the old quarter, they still lived among the common
people; nevertheless, they could see the town of the richer classes from
their windows, so that they were just on the threshold of the promised

Their apartments, situated on the second floor, consisted of three
large rooms--dining-room, drawing-room, and bedroom. The first floor was
occupied by the owner of the house, a stick and umbrella manufacturer,
who had a shop on the ground floor. The house, which was narrow and
by no means deep, had only two storeys. Felicite moved into it with a
bitter pang. In the provinces, to live in another person's house is an
avowal of poverty. Every family of position at Plassans has a house
of its own, landed property being very cheap there. Pierre kept the
purse-strings well tied; he would not hear of any embellishments. The
old furniture, faded, worn, damaged though it was, had to suffice,
without even being repaired. Felicite, however, who keenly felt the
necessity for this parsimony, exerted herself to give fresh polish to
all the wreckage; she herself knocked nails into some of the furniture
which was more dilapidated than the rest, and darned the frayed velvet
of the arm-chairs.

The dining-room, which, like the kitchen, was at the back of the house,
was nearly bare; a table and a dozen chairs were lost in the gloom of
this large apartment, whose window faced the grey wall of a neighbouring
building. As no strangers ever went into the bedroom, Felicite had
stowed all her useless furniture there; thus, besides a bedstead,
wardrobe, secretaire, and wash-stand, it contained two cradles, one
perched atop of the other, a sideboard whose doors were missing, and an
empty bookcase, venerable ruins which the old woman could not make up
her mind to part with. All her cares, however, were bestowed upon the
drawing-room, and she almost succeeded in making it comfortable and
decent. The furniture was covered with yellowish velvet with satin
flowers; in the middle stood a round table with a marble top, while a
couple of pier tables, surmounted by mirrors, leant against the walls at
either end of the room. There was even a carpet, which just covered the
middle of the floor, and a chandelier in a white muslin cover which the
flies had spotted with black specks. On the walls hung six lithographs
representing the great battles of Napoleon I. Moreover, the furniture
dated from the first years of the Empire. The only embellishment that
Felicite could obtain was to have the walls hung with orange-hued paper
covered with large flowers. Thus the drawing room had a strange yellow
glow, which filled it with an artificial dazzling light. The furniture,
the paper, and the window curtains were yellow; the carpet and even the
marble table-tops showed touches of yellow. However, when the curtains
were drawn the colours harmonised fairly well and the drawing-room
looked almost decent.

But Felicite had dreamed of quite a different kind of luxury. She
regarded with mute despair this ill-concealed misery. She usually
occupied the drawing-room, the best apartment in the house, and the
sweetest and bitterest of her pastimes was to sit at one of the windows
which overlooked the Rue de la Banne and gave her a side view of the
square in front of the Sub-Prefecture. That was the paradise of her
dreams. That little, neat, tidy square, with its bright houses, seemed
to her a Garden of Eden. She would have given ten years of her life to
possess one of those habitations. The house at the left-hand corner,
in which the receiver of taxes resided, particularly tempted her. She
contemplated it with eager longing. Sometimes, when the windows of
this abode were open, she could catch a glimpse of rich furniture and
tasteful elegance which made her burn with envy.

At this period the Rougons passed through a curious crisis of vanity
and unsatiated appetite. The few proper feelings which they had once
entertained had become embittered. They posed as victims of evil
fortune, not with resignation, however, for they seemed still more
keenly determined that they would not die before they had satisfied
their ambitions. In reality, they did not abandon any of their hopes,
notwithstanding their advanced age. Felicite professed to feel a
presentiment that she would die rich. However, each day of poverty
weighed them down the more. When they recapitulated their vain
attempts--when they recalled their thirty years' struggle, and the
defection of their children--when they saw their airy castles end in
this yellow drawing-room, whose shabbiness they could only conceal by
drawing the curtains, they were overcome with bitter rage. Then, as a
consolation, they would think of plans for making a colossal fortune,
seeking all sorts of devices. Felicite would fancy herself the winner
of the grand prize of a hundred thousand francs in some lottery, while
Pierre pictured himself carrying out some wonderful speculation. They
lived with one sole thought--that of making a fortune immediately, in a
few hours--of becoming rich and enjoying themselves, if only for a year.
Their whole beings tended to this, stubbornly, without a pause. And they
still cherished some faint hopes with regard to their sons, with that
peculiar egotism of parents who cannot bear to think that they have sent
their children to college without deriving some personal advantage from

Felicite did not appear to have aged; she was still the same dark little
woman, ever on the move, buzzing about like a grasshopper. Any person
walking behind her on the pavement would have thought her a girl of
fifteen, from the lightness of her step and the angularity of her
shoulders and waist. Even her face had scarcely undergone any change; it
was simply rather more sunken, rather more suggestive of the snout of a

As for Pierre Rougon, he had grown corpulent, and had become a highly
respectable looking citizen, who only lacked a decent income to make him
a very dignified individual. His pale, flabby face, his heaviness,
his languid manner, seemed redolent of wealth. He had one day heard a
peasant who did not know him say: "Ah! he's some rich fellow, that fat
old gentleman there. He's no cause to worry about his dinner!" This
was a remark which stung him to the heart, for he considered it cruel
mockery to be only a poor devil while possessing the bulk and contented
gravity of a millionaire. When he shaved on Sundays in front of a small
five-sou looking-glass hanging from the fastening of a window, he would
often think that in a dress coat and white tie he would cut a far better
figure at the Sub-Prefect's than such or such a functionary of Plassans.
This peasant's son, who had grown sallow from business worries, and
corpulent from a sedentary life, whose hateful passions were hidden
beneath naturally placid features, really had that air of solemn
imbecility which gives a man a position in an official salon. People
imagined that his wife held a rod over him, but they were mistaken. He
was as self-willed as a brute. Any determined expression of extraneous
will would drive him into a violent rage. Felicite was far too supple to
thwart him openly; with her light fluttering nature she did not attack
obstacles in front. When she wished to obtain something from her
husband, or drive him the way she thought best, she would buzz round him
in her grasshopper fashion, stinging him on all sides, and returning
to the charge a hundred times until he yielded almost unconsciously. He
felt, moreover, that she was shrewder than he, and tolerated her advice
fairly patiently. Felicite, more useful than the coach fly, would
sometimes do all the work while she was thus buzzing round Pierre's
ears. Strange to say, the husband and wife never accused each other
of their ill-success. The only bone of contention between them was the
education lavished on their children.

The Revolution of 1848 found all the Rougons on the lookout, exasperated
by their bad luck, and disposed to lay violent hands on fortune if ever
they should meet her in a byway. They were a family of bandits lying in
wait, ready to rifle and plunder. Eugene kept an eye on Paris; Aristide
dreamed of strangling Plassans; the mother and father, perhaps the most
eager of the lot, intended to work on their own account, and reap
some additional advantage from their sons' doings. Pascal alone, that
discreet wooer of science, led the happy, indifferent life of a lover in
his bright little house in the new town.


In that closed, sequestered town of Plassans, where class distinction
was so clearly marked in 1848, the commotion caused by political events
was very slight. Even at the present day the popular voice sounds very
faintly there; the middle classes bring their prudence to bear in the
matter, the nobility their mute despair, and the clergy their shrewd
cunning. Kings may usurp thrones, or republics may be established,
without scarcely any stir in the town. Plassans sleeps while Paris
fights. But though on the surface the town may appear calm and
indifferent, in the depths hidden work goes on which it is curious
to study.

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