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If shots are rare in the streets, intrigues consume the
drawing-rooms of both the new town and the Saint-Marc quarter. Until the
year 1830 the masses were reckoned of no account. Even at the present
time they are similarly ignored. Everything is settled between the
clergy, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie. The priests, who are very
numerous, give the cue to the local politics; they lay subterranean
mines, as it were, and deal blows in the dark, following a prudent
tactical system, which hardly allows of a step in advance or retreat
even in the course of ten years. The secret intrigues of men who desire
above all things to avoid noise requires special shrewdness, a special
aptitude for dealing with small matters, and a patient endurance such
as one only finds in persons callous to all passions. It is thus that
provincial dilatoriness, which is so freely ridiculed in Paris, is full
of treachery, secret stabs, hidden victories and defeats. These worthy
men, particularly when their interests are at stake, kill at home with
a snap of the fingers, as we, the Parisians, kill with cannon in the
public thoroughfares.

The political history of Plassans, like that of all little towns in
Provence, is singularly characteristic. Until 1830, the inhabitants
remained observant Catholics and fervent royalists; even the lower
classes only swore by God and their legitimate sovereigns. Then there
came a sudden change; faith departed, the working and middle classes
deserted the cause of legitimacy, and gradually espoused the great
democratic movement of our time. When the Revolution of 1848 broke out,
the nobility and the clergy were left alone to labour for the triumph
of Henri V. For a long time they had regarded the accession of the
Orleanists as a ridiculous experiment, which sooner or later would bring
back the Bourbons; although their hopes were singularly shaken, they
nevertheless continued the struggle, scandalised by the defection of
their former allies, whom they strove to win back to their cause. The
Saint-Marc quarter, assisted by all the parish priests, set to
work. Among the middle classes, and especially among the people, the
enthusiasm was very great on the morrow of the events of February; these
apprentice republicans were in haste to display their revolutionary
fervour. As regards the gentry of the new town, however, the
conflagration, bright though it was, lasted no longer than a fire of
straw. The small houseowners and retired tradespeople who had had their
good days, or had made snug little fortunes under the monarchy, were
soon seized with panic; the Republic, with its constant shocks and
convulsions, made them tremble for their money and their life of

Consequently, when the Clerical reaction of 1849 declared itself, nearly
all the middle classes passed over to the Conservative party. They were
received with open arms. The new town had never before had such close
relations with the Saint-Marc quarter: some of the nobility even went
so far as to shake hands with lawyers and retired oil-dealers. This
unexpected familiarity kindled the enthusiasm of the new quarter, which
henceforward waged bitter warfare against the republican government. To
bring about such a coalition, the clergy had to display marvellous skill
and endurance. The nobility of Plassans for the most part lay prostrate,
as if half dead. They retained their faith, but lethargy had fallen on
them, and they preferred to remain inactive, allowing the heavens to
work their will. They would gladly have contented themselves with silent
protest, feeling, perhaps, a vague presentiment that their divinities
were dead, and that there was nothing left for them to do but rejoin
them. Even at this period of confusion, when the catastrophe of 1848 was
calculated to give them a momentary hope of the return of the Bourbons,
they showed themselves spiritless and indifferent, speaking of rushing
into the melee, yet never quitting their hearths without a pang of

The clergy battled indefatigably against this feeling of impotence and
resignation. They infused a kind of passion into their work: a priest,
when he despairs, struggles all the more fiercely. The fundamental
policy of the Church is to march straight forward; even though she
may have to postpone the accomplishment of her projects for several
centuries, she never wastes a single hour, but is always pushing forward
with increasing energy. So it was the clergy who led the reaction of
Plassans; the nobility only lent them their name, nothing more. The
priests hid themselves behind the nobles, restrained them, directed
them, and even succeeded in endowing them with a semblance of life. When
they had induced them to overcome their repugnance so far as to make
common cause with the middle classes, they believed themselves certain
of victory. The ground was marvellously well prepared. This ancient
royalist town, with its population of peaceful householders and timorous
tradespeople, was destined to range itself, sooner or later, on the side
of law and order. The clergy, by their tactics, hastened the conversion.
After gaining the landlords of the new town to their side, they even
succeeded in convincing the little retail-dealers of the old quarter.
From that time the reactionary movement obtained complete possession of
the town. All opinions were represented in this reaction; such a mixture
of embittered Liberals, Legitimists, Orleanists, Bonapartists, and
Clericals had never before been seen. It mattered little, however, at
that time. The sole object was to kill the Republic; and the Republic
was at the point of death. Only a fraction of the people--a thousand
workmen at most, out of the ten thousand souls in the town--still
saluted the tree of liberty planted in the middle of the square in front
of the Sub-Prefecture.

The shrewdest politicians of Plassans, those who led the reactionary
movement, did not scent the approach of the Empire until very much
later. Prince Louis Napoleon's popularity seemed to them a mere passing
fancy of the multitude. His person inspired them with but little
admiration. They reckoned him a nonentity, a dreamer, incapable of
laying his hands on France, and especially of maintaining his authority.
To them he was only a tool whom they would make use of, who would clear
the way for them, and whom they would turn out as soon as the hour
arrived for the rightful Pretender to show himself.[*] However, months
went by, and they became uneasy. It was only then that they vaguely
perceived they were being duped: they had no time, however, to take any
steps; the Coup d'Etat burst over their heads, and they were compelled
to applaud. That great abomination, the Republic, had been assassinated;
that, at least, was some sort of triumph. So the clergy and the nobility
accepted accomplished facts with resignation; postponing, until
later, the realisation of their hopes, and making amends for their
miscalculations by uniting with the Bonapartists for the purpose of
crushing the last Republicans.

[*] The Count de Chambord, "Henri V."

It was these events that laid the foundation of the Rougons' fortune.
After being mixed up with the various phases of the crisis, they rose to
eminence on the ruins of liberty. These bandits had been lying in wait
to rob the Republic; as soon as it had been strangled, they helped to
plunder it.

After the events of February 1848, Felicite, who had the keenest scent
of all the members of the family, perceived that they were at last on
the right track. So she began to flutter round her husband, goading
him on to bestir himself. The first rumours of the Revolution that had
overturned King Louis Philippe had terrified Pierre. When his wife,
however, made him understand that they had little to lose and much to
gain from a convulsion, he soon came round to her way of thinking.

"I don't know what you can do," Felicite repeatedly said, "but it seems
to me that there's plenty to be done. Did not Monsieur de Carnavant say
to us one day that he would be rich if ever Henri V. should return, and
that this sovereign would magnificently recompense those who had worked
for his restoration? Perhaps our fortune lies in that direction. We may
yet be lucky."

The Marquis de Carnavant, the nobleman who, according to the scandalous
talk of the town, had been on very familiar terms with Felicite's
mother, used occasionally to visit the Rougons. Evil tongues asserted
that Madame Rougon resembled him. He was a little, lean, active man,
seventy-five years old at that time, and Felicite certainly appeared to
be taking his features and manner as she grew older. It was said that
the wreck of his fortune, which had already been greatly diminished by
his father at the time of the Emigration, had been squandered on women.
Indeed, he cheerfully acknowledged his poverty. Brought up by one of
his relatives, the Count de Valqueyras, he lived the life of a parasite,
eating at the count's table and occupying a small apartment just under
his roof.

"Little one," he would often say to Felicite, as he patted her on
the cheek, "if ever Henri V. gives me a fortune, I will make you my

He still called Felicite "little one," even when she was fifty years
old. It was of these friendly pats, of these repeated promises of an
inheritance, that Madame Rougon was thinking when she endeavoured
to drive her husband into politics. Monsieur de Carnavant had often
bitterly lamented his inability to render her any assistance. No
doubt he would treat her like a father if ever he should acquire some
influence. Pierre, to whom his wife half explained the situation in
veiled terms, declared his readiness to move in any direction indicated.

The marquis's peculiar position qualified him to act as an energetic
agent of the reactionary movement at Plassans from the first days of the
Republic. This bustling little man, who had everything to gain from the
return of his legitimate sovereigns, worked assiduously for their cause.
While the wealthy nobility of the Saint-Marc quarter were slumbering in
mute despair, fearing, perhaps that they might compromise themselves and
again be condemned to exile, he multiplied himself, as it were, spread
the propaganda and rallied faithful ones together.

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